Table of Contents
Part VIII: The Resurrection of Jesus
The Theological Aspect of the Resurrection
the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is, as R. A. Torrey
put it, "the cornerstone of Christian doctrine." As
he points out, it is mentioned 104 times or more in the New Testament
and was the most prominent and cardinal point in the apostolic
When the apostolic company,
after the apostasy of Judas Iscariot, felt it necessary to complete
their number again by the addition of one to take the place of
Judas, it was in order that he might be "a witness with
us of the resurrection" (Acts 1:21,22). The resurrection
of Jesus Christ was the one point that Peter emphasized in his
great sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Its keynote was, "this
Jesus hath God raised up whereof we are all witnesses" (Acts
When the apostles
were again filled with the Holy Spirit some days later, the result
was that with great power they gave witness to the resurrection
of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:10). When Paul went to Athens, the
burden of his message was the supreme importance of the fact
of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:18 and 1 Corinthians
15:15). At the same time Paul says, "If Christ be not risen,
then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain"
(1 Corinthians 15:14). And later on he adds, "If Christ
be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins"
(1 Corinthians 15:17).
12. Torrey, R. A., "The Certainty and
Importance of the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the
Dead," The Fundamentalist, vol.2, Bible Institute
of Los Angeles, 1917, p.298.
1 of 16
Sir Kenneth Clark in his book Civilization,
which covers the subject of his BBC lectures that received worldwide
acclaim, wrote: "We have grown so used to the idea that
the crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity that it
is a shock to realize how late in the story of Christian art
its power was recognized. In the first art of Christianity it
hardly appears. . . . Early Christian art is concerned
with miracles, healings, and hopeful aspects of the faith like
the Ascension and the Resurrection" (published by BBC and
John Murray, London, 1969, p.29).
is no doubt that Torrey was perfectly correct when he said: (13)
The crucifixion loses its meaning
without the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the death
of Christ was only the heroic death of a noble martyr. With the
resurrection it is the atoning death of the Son of God. . . .
Disprove the resurrection of Jesus
Christ and Christian faith is vain.
Why does it
make such a difference from the theological point of view? I
think that if the Lord Jesus had died and not been raised again,
it would have implied that God saw His death as having been justified
on his own account. The fact of the Resurrection was God's
seal of approval on a death which He thereby declared to have
been purely a substitutional one. When a man dies, sinful man,
he remains dead and God does nothing about it because it is the
appointed terminus of the kind of life he has lived. True, he
will be raised again, but it will be a resurrection unto judgment
if he has died unredeemed and only a resurrection unto life if
he has been redeemed. The silence of God in the presence of the
grave is His seal upon the fact that an inevitable law has been
fulfilled for fallen man.
But the Lord Jesus Christ was
not fallen man; He was unfallen, sinless man. When
He died, His death was not the consequence of His life, as it
is for all other men; and to allow Him to remain in the tomb
would have been to assent to a conclusion which in relation to
Him was totally false.
I believe that God might have raised
the Lord Jesus from the grave the very moment He was laid within
it, or perhaps even the very moment He died. But there were certain
reasons why this would not have been appropriate. These reasons
are made clear enough by careful attention to certain incidents
recorded in the Gospels and by relating these to some beliefs
regarding the process of dying which are still surprisingly widely
held and were shared by the Jewish people in our Lord's time.
I'm not suggesting that there is
any firm basis for these beliefs or that Jesus Himself actually
shared them. It is rather that, wishing to communicate something
of fundamental importance about His mission, He accommodated
His actions to these beliefs in order that there should never
be any doubt in their minds as to the reality of His sacrifice
and its meaning. I have in mind, first of all, the fact that
constant reference is made in Scripture to the circumstance of
His having arisen the third day. The Lord Himself emphasized
13. Torrey, R. A., ref.12, p.299.
on a number of occasions,
as Paul did, for example, in I Corinthians 15:1, 3, 4. What,
then, is the significance of the fact that He spent three days
in the tomb?
There was, and is, a very widespread
belief that the spirit of man does not immediately leave his
body when he dies. Various cultures account for this in different
ways. The Tasmanians held that the spirit did not leave the body
until the sun went down, even though death had occurred first
thing in the morning. (14) In the Bronze Age the Greeks believed that the spirit
remained in or about the body until the body began to decay.
(15) The Aztecs
held that the spirit remained for four days in or about the body,
(16) a belief which
was shared also by the Northwest Coast Indians. Herodotus tells
us that in his day embalming was never undertaken until three
days after death. (17)
The Dobuans, (18)
a people from Oceania, put seed yams near the corpse and did
not believe that the soul or spirit had really left until there
was no further evidence of nibbling.
In the Old Testament a man defiled
by contact with a corpse was to purify himself on the third day
(Numbers 19:11,12), and the flesh of the peace offering was not
to be kept beyond the third day. Whether it was because of their
rather extraordinary ways of interpreting the Scriptures, particularly
such Scriptures as these, or whether it was because they shared
the feeling of many other people that it is dangerous to assume
too quickly that a man really is dead, but yet believing that
evidence of physical decay could be taken as adequate evidence
(and such decay would normally occur within three days), we cannot
be sure. But the fact is that they believed quite widely that
the spirit could be persuaded back into the body and the individual
revived under certain circumstances up to but not beyond the
third day. Talmudic tradition held that mourning for the dead
should culminate "on the third day," because after
that the spirit would not return. In his classic work The
Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim has a valuable
section on this matter: (19)
14. Tasmanians: G. P. Murdock, Our Primitive
Contemporaries, Macmillan, New York, 1934, p.10.
15. Greeks: George E. Mylonas, "The Cult of the Dead in
Hellenic Times," being one paper in Studies Presented
to David Moore Robinson, Washington Univeresity Press,
no date, reprint, p.92.
16. Aztecs: G. P. Murdock, ref.14. p.387.
17. Herodotus, History in Everyman's Library, vol.2,
New York, 1936, p.3.
18. Dobuans: quoted by I. McIlwraith, from Reo Fortune, "Sorcerers
of Dobu" in a lecture at University of Toronto, 1953.
19. Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,
vol.2, 8th edition, Longmans Green, New York, 1896, p.630.
In this work Edersheim has listed a number of references from
It is at
least a curious coincidence that the relatives and friends of
the deceased were in the habit of going to the grave up to the
third day so as to make sure that those laid there were really
dead. The Rabbis were in the habit of referring to Hos. 6:2 in
this connection, where it is written, "After two days will
He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall
live in His sight."
At the present
time in medical circles there is considerable uncertainty as
to the actual time of death, if by "death" is meant
the point of no return. For in recent years many people have
been brought back to life by various heroic measures, who in
previous days would have been counted irretrievably lost. In
fact, so difficult has it become to be legally or clinically
sure that an individual really is dead that medical conferences
have been devoted simply to this issue, and the general consensus
of opinion at the present moment is that the only realistic way
of determining death is to accept a qualified medical opinion
about the matter in each case. (20)
The fact is, therefore, that if
God had raised up Jesus Christ any sooner, the Jewish people
as a whole might have argued that He was never really dead.
And it seems likely that even in the minds of the disciples themselves
there would have been some doubt. The Jews never did argue
that Jesus was not dead -- perhaps on this account. All that
they pretended to believe was that someone had stolen His body
I think the most striking proof
of the importance of preventing such uncertainty is beautifully
borne out if we follow carefully four incidents in our Lord's
ministry which have been recorded in different Gospels, but which
can be set in their chronological order with the help of any
good Harmony of the Gospels.
The first of these incidents is
found in John 4:46-53 in which the Lord restored to health a
young child who was "at the point of death." Jesus
healed him, and he did not die.
The second instance is found in
Mark 5:21-24, 35-43. In this case a child died while the Lord
was on the way, and although the Lord was delayed for perhaps
a few minutes by the events which transpired between verses 24
and 35, it does not seem that the child can have been dead for
more than a very short time before He arrived at the home. Here,
taking the child by the hand, He raised. her from death and restored
her alive to her parents. The third
incident is recorded in Luke 7:11-17, and this is the story of
the raising of the widow of Nain's only son. In this case the
young man was being
20. "If Adam Had Not Died", Part
III (especially chapter 2)
in The Virgin Birth and The Incarnation, vol,5 in The Doorway
carried out to be buried.
The Lord approached the bier and touched it to signify that they
who were carrying it should put it down. And then He said, "Young
man, I say unto thee, Arise." And he who was dead sat up
and began to speak.
A careful reading of each of these
accounts shows the growing impression which was made upon those
who were witnesses to these events or who heard about them subsequently,
as in each successive event the individual restored was, as it
were, "more completely dead." In John 4:53 we are merely
told that the immediate household was so impressed that they
believed on Jesus. In the second instance (Mark 5:43) the people
"were astonished with great astonishment." It was remarkable
enough to restore someone on the point of death just by a spoken
word; it was more remarkable still when somebody, who was to
all intents and purposes dead, was restored to life with equal
ease. In the third case the young man had been dead long enough
that he was being carried out for burial and the impression made
by his restoration to life was even greater still. As the account
says (verse 16f.), "And there came a great fear on all:
and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen
up among us; and That God hath visited his people. And this rumour
of him went forth throughout all Judea, and throughout all the
region round about."
Nevertheless, in each of these
instances it might always be argued, by some of the Jews at least,
that in no case were these individuals really dead. It was wonderful
enough, but not conclusive evidence that Jesus had absolute power
over death. What was yet required was one instance in which the
dead was dead by all the standards of their traditional
faith, that is, a restoration to life of somebody who was known
to have been dead for at least three days. And so we come to
the fourth incident; namely, the raising of Lazarus.
We have the details of this event
set forth in John, chapter 11, more elaborately than in any of
the other accounts -- and for good reasons. For it is here and
nowhere else that Jesus finally demonstrated that He was Lord
of Life indeed. The story is too familiar to require quoting
at length but certain verses must be underscored in the present
context. His companions, knowing that Jesus had learned that
a beloved friend, Lazarus, was very ill, naturally expected that
He would immediately make the journey to the home of Martha and
Mary where the sick man lay. In verse 5 this expectation is reinforced
by the words, "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and
Lazarus." It seems as though the writer was trying to make
quite clear that from
the human point of view, Jesus ought to have left at once. But
in verse 6 it is written, "When He had heard therefore that
he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where
he was." The "therefore" in this sentence seems
a contradiction, for it would not be normal, in our experience,
to delay going to the help of a friend for the very reason that
we loved that friend. One might expect quite the opposite. In
any case it transpired as a consequence of this delay that Lazarus
died and was buried, and had actually lain in the grave for more
than three days (verse 17) by the time Jesus had arrived.
Not unnaturally, in spite of her
great love for the Lord and her faith in His compassion, Mary
could not help giving expression to a kind of rebuke for the
Lord's delay. She said (verse 32), "Lord, if thou hadst
been here, my brother had not died." I think the Lord accepted
her rebuke and thereby took any bitterness out of it which might
have been there, for He did not reply to her, but only openly
shared her grief. Then He asked her where Lazarus was laid, and
coming to the grave He commanded them to take away the stone.
Martha, ever the practical one, immediately said, "Lord,
by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days."
One wonders what might have happened
if the Lord had simply said in a loud voice, "Come forth."
He is yet to say this, and the dead will rise, the dead in Christ
of all the centuries, in every part of the world. But here He
called to Lazarus only, and in some way He must have used even
that name in a singular manner, for I'm quite certain that there
were others named Lazarus who might also have responded -- perhaps
even the Lazarus in Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:20). The effect
of this upon those who witnessed it and upon those who soon heard
about it from others was, to use a modern term, absolutely stunning.
Curiously enough, John is silent about the matter in this particular
part of the narrative, but the real effect is witnessed by the
Pharisees' confession (John 12:19): "Perceive ye how ye
prevail nothing: behold, the world is gone after him." And
it will be noted that this exclamation had direct reference to
the fact that Lazarus had been raised from the dead.
The raising of Jairus' daughter
was wonderful enough: the raising of the widow of Nain's son
was even more extraordinary. But the raising of Lazarus was the
last straw, the final proof. And that these events took place
in this order is surely not an accident. They serve to demonstrate
unequivocally that the Lord remained for three days in the tomb
for a very good reason indeed, to circumvent entirely any challenge
which might have legitimately been raised by
the Jewish authorities
to the effect that Jesus could never be counted as the sacrificial
Lamb of God with any certainty because it was not certain that
He ever really died.
* * *
remains to be considered, however briefly, the question of exactly
how these three days are to be reckoned. A number of erudite
attempts have been made in the past to demonstrate that the tradition,
which appears to have existed from very early times, to the effect
that the Lord was crucified on Friday, is a mistake.
The argument is that although Sunday was unquestionably the day
of resurrection, one must go back precisely three whole days
and three whole nights, a total of 72 hours, if one wishes to
determine the actual day of the Lord's death and burial.
It is insisted that the words of
the Lord in Matthew 12:40 are unequivocal and must be taken literally:
"For 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." Certainly, by our standards
of reckoning time the appeal is convincing.
Yet one has a strange feeling that
somehow the early Christian church would hardly have made a mistake
about the day upon which an event of such tremendous importance
as the Lord's death had occurred. After all, the event is rather
clearly hemmed in, on the one hand, by the fact that the earlier-than-usual
deposition from the cross is specifically stated to have been
occasioned by the circumstance that the next day (which began
at 6 P.M. that evening) was a Sabbath or Holy Day, and on the
other hand by the fact that the Resurrection occurred apparently
very early in the morning following what appears to be the same
Sabbath. We do not know precisely when the Lord broke forth out
of the tomb. It could have been any time during the night after
6 P.M. of the previous evening. We do know that all four Gospels
seem to go out of their way to make it quite clear that no one
who visited the tomb arrived there early enough to find the Lord
Matthew 28:1 "Now, after the end of the Sabbath(s). .
. " (see below).
Mark 16:1,2 "very early in the morning. . ."
Luke 24:1 "Now upon the first day of the week, very early
in the morning. . ."
John 20:1 "The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene
early. . ."
It should be
noted in the above list of references that the Authorized Version
renders Matthew 28:1 as, "In the end of the sabbath, as
it began to dawn. . ." Strictly speaking, this translation
as we now
understand the phrase "in the
end" does not make sense since the end of the Sabbath would not fall
in the early morning, but in the late afternoon, because by Jewish reckoning
the calendar day begins at 6 P.M. in the evening. It is generally believed
that this method of reckoning was originally based upon the fact that
in the Week of Creation, the first day began with a darkness which was
turned into light, and thereafter each twenty-four-hour period is identified
as "the evening and the morning" -- in this order (Genesis 1:5,8,
etc.). Moreover, the original Greek in Matthew 28:1 does not read "in
the end of" but "after the close of the Sabbaths,"
According to modern lexicographers
has the basic meaning "after the close of," followed by the
genitive. It has been argued by some that the plural here, Sabbaths, could
mean that these were two Holy Days in succession, which would be Friday
and Saturday. This would allow more time to fill out the supposed 72 hours.
However, two Holy Days probably fell together on this occasion, much as
Christmas Day may fall on a Sunday. The use of the plural is perhaps accounted
for in this way. At any rate the meaning "after the close of"
is represented in one way or another in the translations made by Rieu,
Knox, The Twentieth Century New Testament, Berkeley, Williams, Smith and
Goodspeed, the Jerusalem Bible, and the Revised Standard Version.
The simplest reading of the record
is that burial was just prior to the beginning of the Holy Day,
perhaps between 4 and 5 P.M., and the Resurrection late in the
evening or very early in the morning of the day which followed
the Sabbath. I say, "the simplest reading,"
because even if an extra Sabbath day were allowed in order to
increase the time interval, we are still not provided with the
necessary 72 hours, and if we postulate three Sabbaths,
we have far exceeded the allotted time. Attempts to extend the
period, such as have been made in the past by people like Bullinger,
(21) are unnecessarily
complicated when we once learn to accept the well-recognized
fact that the Jewish people did not reckon days in the precise
way that we normally do. And I use the word "normally"
advisedly, because it will be apparent that we also "toy
with time" and adopt a similar system of reckoning to that
of the Jewish people when it is to our advantage to do so --
from an economic point of view.
The principle which governed their
thinking in such matters
21. Bullinger in his Companion Bible, vol.5,
p.170, appendix 144. Dr. Bullinger, while acknowledging that
a part may be put for the whole, insists that the use of the
phrase "three nights and three days" demands a literal
interpretation, i.e., a period of 72 hours. He expands upon this
in appendix 148.
has been rather clearly
set forth in some of their own commentaries on the Scriptures.
It is this: that any part of a whole period of time may
be counted as though it were the whole. A part of a day may be
counted as a whole day, a part of a year as a whole year. Furthermore,
a part of a day or a part of a night may be counted
as a whole "night and day." I suspect that in the Lord's
parable of the man who paid his labourers for a whole day, whether
they had worked for a whole day or not (Matthew 20:1-16), is
really a reflection of this principle. Thus, in the Babylonian
Talmud, the Third Tractate of the Mishnah (which is designated
"B. Pesachim," at page 4a) it is stated: "The
portion of a day is as the whole of it."
In order to elucidate the next quotation
of this kind, it is necessary to explain that the word 'onah ,
a word which occurs in late Hebrew, means simply "a period of time."
Thus in the Jerusalem Talmud, in the First Tractate of the Mishnah (which
is designated "J. Shabbath," at chapter 9, paragraph 3), it
is stated: "We have a teaching (Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah who flourished
between A.D. 80-100 and tenth 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'."
Even more extraordinary to our
way of reckoning is the fact that if a king has reigned for even
the smallest fraction of a year, he is credited with a whole
year's reign. It is ignorance of this fact which for centuries
confused European scholars in their attempts to harmonize the
various lengths of reigns of the kings of Israel and the kings
of Judah. For, every so often, cross references are given which
should allow the accumulated years to be harmonized between the
two, but every attempt made to achieve such a harmony by taking
the totals literally led to hopeless contradiction. Using the
key which is supplied by this principle of crediting to any monarch
any part of a year as a whole year, enabled Edwin R. Thiele to
produce a complete harmony of these lists. (22) He did, however, find that certain other clues were
needed in certain situations. In the quotation which follows
it should be remembered that 30 days were allowed for the month
of "March" and that New Year's Day was "April"
1st, according to the Jewish calendar.
In the Babylonian Talmud, and the
Eighth Tractate of the Mishnah (which is designated "B.
Rosh Hasshanah," at page 2a and b), it is stated: "Our
rabbis have taught that if a king begins his reign on the 29th
of Adar ("March"), as soon as it is the first of Nisan
22. Thiele, Edwin, The Mysterious Numbers
of the Hebrew Kings, University of Chicago Press, 1951, xxii
and 298 pp.
a year is reckoned to him . . . and one day in a year is counted
as a year."
I have not been able to verify
this, but I understand that formerly, if not even now, Russian
railway tickets are issued for whole periods of time which are
termed "suthees." If it happens that a suthee
has to be used for only a few minutes at the end of a day,
it must then be surrendered and does not provide the user with
a pass for the balance of 24 hours. The actual date of the calendar
day is the important thing. But then, under certain circumstances
we make use of the same principle. For example, if a baby is
born and the birth is registered as being a few minutes before
midnight on New Year's Eve, the proud parents can claim a dependent
for the whole of the year which is so soon to end. And ministers
are not infrequently asked to perform weddings on New Year's
Eve in order to gain the financial advantage of married status
for the year that is already 99.9 percent over.
With this background material,
then, we could reconstruct the events of those three crucial
days as follows:
In this diagram
three days only are shown, Friday, Saturday (the Sabbath), and
Sunday. Each is divided by shading into a night and a day, and
each begins at 6 P.M. in the evening and ends at 6 P.M. on the
following evening. On Friday morning the actual Crucifixion is
shown as beginning at 9 A.M., the third hour of the day (Mark
15:25). Three hours
later at 12 o'clock noon there began a period of supernatural
darkness which continued until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, as
indicated, at which time -- or very shortly after -- the Lord
dismissed His life. Sometime between 3 o'clock and 6 o'clock
He was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb before
the onset of the Holy Day, a day which was doubly holy being
also the first day of the Passover. The deposition from the cross
is marked by an arrow pointing downwards which is arbitrarily
positioned. Between this and the close of Friday would then represent
that portion of the first night and day, i.e., Day 1 by Jewish
reckoning. From this to the end of Saturday would naturally represent
the second night and day. Sometime during the night of Sunday,
as indicated arbitrarily by the arrow pointing upward, the Lord
rose from the tomb. The interval from 6 P.M. to this resurrection
time would be the portion which represented the third night and
This straightforward reconstruction
satisfies, as far as I know, all the legal requirements which
the Jewish concept of "assured death" apparently demanded.
The following is a list of the essential references to this time
period which are to be found in the Gospels and Acts.
| Matthew 12:40
|| Matthew 20:19
|| Mark 8:31
|| Luke 9:22
|| Luke 24:7, 21,
|| John 2:19
|| Acts 10:40
who lived between A.D. 100 to 167, left us a famous work titled
Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew. In Section 107 of
this he said that the story of Jonah signifies that "on
the third day after the Crucifixion He should rise again."
Many Jews apparently engaged with him in this controversy, but
in no case is there recorded any challenge to Justin Martyr's
interpretation of the Lord's words in Matthew 12:40 with reference
to Jonah's three days and three nights.
We have yet one aspect of the bodily
Resurrection which seems to me to have tremendous theological
importance, even though some of the most renowned authors of
books on the subject of this Paper have not seen fit to pay any
attention to it. For this, we need to put together four passages
of Scripture which seem in a special way to be so obviously related
that I cannot believe we are simply reading into Scripture more
than we are intended to do.
The first of these is found in
John 20:11-18. I think it is desirable to quote this passage
in full, and to note that what immediately precedes it (verses
1-10) tell how Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb very early
on Sunday morning, while it was yet dark, and found
to her surprise that
the stone had been rolled away. She immediately ran to tell Peter
and John that someone had removed the Lord's body. These two
disciples ran together to the tomb, John getting there first
but hesitating about entering it, while Peter coming up behind
him ran straight on in, in his characteristically impetuous manner.
Then these disciples "went away again unto their own home,"
apparently fully convinced that Jesus was not there, but not
realizing that He had really raised from the dead.
Meanwhile, Mary had arrived back
at the tomb and stood there, overcome with grief and perhaps
a little bewildered. Scripture records what followed (John 20:11-18):
But Mary stood without at the
sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked
into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the
one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of
Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou?
She said unto them, Because they
have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid
him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and
saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus said unto her, Woman, why
weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?
She, supposing him to be the gardener,
said unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where
thou has laid him, and I will take him away.
And Jesus said unto her, Mary.
And she turned herself, and saith
unto him, Rabboni!
Jesus said unto her, Touch me not:
for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren,
and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and
to my God and your God.
Mary Magdalene came and told
the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had spoken
circumstance which I wish to comment upon is that fact that the
Lord did not allow her to touch Him (verse 17), and to explore
the reason which He gave for denying her at this time what He
invited the other disciples to do later (Luke 24:39).
I have seen it argued that there
was a peculiarly close attachment on the part of Mary Magdalene
to the Lord's Person and that it was this attachment which the
Lord was forbidding her to give expression to because He now
bore a different relationship to all His disciples. But,
it seems to me clear from the Lord's words that He meant something
much more significant. He said, "for I am not yet ascended
to my Father." In what way could His ascension to His Father
change the propriety of allowing those who loved Him to touch
Him? The words are meaningless unless one assumes that after
He had once ascended to His Father, such personal contact
would then be allowable. But this in turn indicates that after
the ascension to His Father He would come back to the disciples
a form, i.e., bodily,
as to be accessible to them in this sense. So the use of the
word "ascension" here cannot logically be equated with
His ascension into heaven at the end of the forty days, though
many Bibles assume that it does by giving a reference at this
point to the Ascension.
I think we have a clue as to the
significance of the Lord's words in the fact that He instructed
Mary to go and tell the disciples, "my brethren," as
the Lord so beautifully puts it, that He was about to "ascend
unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and to your God."
It seems to me important to note that on three occasions Jesus
referred to His Father by the more austere title God. The
first of these occasions is in Hebrews 10:7, at which point we
seem to be given a momentary glimpse of the events which transpired
at the very instant when the Lord entered into the little baby
which Mary bore and actually became a part of our world of time
and space. It might be possible to speak of it as "the moment
of Incarnation." In verse 5 the announcement is made in
heaven that when "he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice
and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared
me..." And in verse 7, "Then said I, Lo, I come to
do thy will, O God."
The second occasion must surely
be the most familiar of all: at the time of the Crucifixion,
when darkness fell upon the world and all our sin was laid upon
Him -- which, after all, was the time of the fulfillment of Hebrews
10:7 -- when the Lord cried out, "My God, my God, why hast
thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).
We have, then, two occasions recorded,
in both of which, clearly, there is implied a special relationship
between Jesus Christ and His Father in which the crucial factor
was not one of love and sonship, but one of judgment. In
the first, the Lamb was offering Himself as a sacrifice, addressing
Himself to God as Judge. And in the second case He is again appealing,
as the Lamb being sacrificed, not to His Father, but to His God.
And in the third case with which
we are concerned in the present passage, the Lord is evidently
still seeing Himself in two roles. He is now fully restored to
fellowship with the Father, but He has yet apparently to present
before God as the sacrificial Lamb some essential symbol of the
completed sacrifice. In some mystical way this symbol is His
blood, the blood of the Lamb.
In the Old Testament temple ordinances,
after making the sacrifice on behalf of the people according
to the Law of Moses, the High Priest took some of the blood which
was the proof of death and entering into the Holy of Holies poured
it upon the Ark of the
Covenant which contained
the two Tables of the Law. This was practical acknowledgment
of the fact that God's Law had been broken and that an innocent
sacrifice of life had been made in recognition of the penalty.
We know from the New Testament that these Mosaic institutions
were symbolic, shadows of a heavenly reality. This reality
is outlined in some detail in Hebrews 9:12-24. The last two
verses of this passage read as follows:
It was therefore necessary that
the copies [RSV] of things in the heavens should be purified
with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better
sacrifices than these.
For Christ has not entered into
the holy places made with hands, which are the copies of the
true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of
God for us.
I am convinced
that when Mary Magdalene encountered the Lord He was, as High
Priest, about to ascend to the Holy of Holies in heaven, there
in some way beyond precise description to present His blood not
only before His Father but before His God and the God of His
brethren. To have touched Him at that moment would have been
an act of desecration. This ascension, then, was not the Ascension
which occurred forty days later when He passed out of visual
contact with His disciples.
Shortly after, in what seems to
have been a matter of hours, He appeared to the disciples and
this time had not the slightest hesitation in allowing them to
handle Him, indeed He invited them to do so and to see
that it really was He, bodily, who stood among them. Moreover,
they held Him by the feet (Matthew 28:9). The highly significant
thing to my mind is that when the Lord offered Himself to their
uninhibited examination in proof of His real identity he said
Behold, my hands and my feet,
that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not
flesh and bones
as ye see me have.
What I think
is so important here is that the Holy Spirit has not adopted
the commonly accepted phrase in the New Testament for a living
person, namely, "flesh and blood." I cannot
think this was an accident.
In the Old Testament it is common
to find the phrase "flesh and bones," and it will be
observed that this phrase is used to indicate blood relationship
and is usually accompanied by a personal pronoun (cf. Genesis
2:23; 29:14; 2 Samuel 5:1,19; 12:13). This is curious in view
of the omission of the word "blood." By contrast, we
do not find in the Old Testament a phrase which is descriptive
of the living
individual as an abstract
idea and without reference to personal relationships. But in
the New Testament this is not the case: with two exceptions,
one of which is the present passage. The phrase "flesh and
blood" is used, as will be observed by reference to 1 Corinthians
15:50, Galatians 1:16, Ephesians 6:12, and importantly, Hebrews
2:14 -- none of which are concerned with the relationship between
individuals, but rather with existence of the individual per
se as a living organism. The deliberate change in terminology
is therefore exceptional enough that it should be noted and an
explanation sought for it.
The body which the Lord now presented
to the disciples -- and presumably Mary Magdalene was one of
them -- was a body in which the life-giving principle, namely,
the blood, upon which we are dependent, was no longer
present. In some way the Lord had changed, not merely because
in the new plane in which He now moved blood was no longer the
source of life, but because His blood had been presented in heaven
as an everlasting memorial of a full, perfect, and sufficient
sacrifice made on our behalf.
The beautiful thing about Scripture
is the way in which it supplies concordant statements almost
incidentally, which one may read again and again and never see
their significance -- until one day they suddenly stand out illuminated
by the Holy Spirit. As we have suggested above, between the incident
with Mary Magdalene at the tomb and the subsequent meeting with
the disciples, a significant change had taken place in the Lord's
resurrected body. The wonderful thing is that this change is
reflected in Mark 16:9-12. In order to set the precise chronological
order of events, the Holy Spirit tells us, through Mark, that
the Lord had appeared first to Mary Magdalene and that she had
immediately gone to tell the others, who were incredulous. Then
in verse 12 we find these words:
After that He appeared in another
form unto two of them as they walked [italics mine].
So we are being
quietly told that a change had taken place in the form
of the Lord between His appearance to Mary Magdalene and all
those to whom He appeared subsequently. The Greek has en hetera
morphe, which means, without a shadow of doubt, "in
another form." It seems, then, that Mary Magdalene found
Him as He was about to present His blood, the symbol of His death
on our behalf, before God's presence as Judge, in heaven. In
some way this act of presentation changed the constitution of
His body from flesh and blood to flesh and bone -- albeit in
a mystical sense which nonetheless was a real change in form.
Mary was the only one who saw
Him in that form which
He bore immediately after the Resurrection. All the others saw
Him in that form which He bore after He had presented His blood
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next
As noted above, there is one other
occasion where we meet with the phrase, as it applied to the
Lord's body, which was not "flesh and blood," but "flesh
and bones," for we are told so very appropriately that we
who now constitute His church, are members of His body, "of
his flesh, and of his bones" (Ephesians 5:30).
Reverting once more to the Old
Testament system of temple worship, in the Day of Atonement when
the priest had carried the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy
of Holies, those present must have waited breathlessly to learn
whether the sacrifice had been acceptable. The signal of God's
acceptance was that the High Priest re-appeared from the Holy
of Holies alive, for as the bearer of an unworthy sacrifice
into the very presence of God he would otherwise have been judged
unfit to live. Thus, the re-appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ
alive after presenting His blood was -- and is -- our final assurance
that His sacrifice is indeed "full, perfect, and sufficient."