Remember my preference



Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part VIII: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Chapter 2

The Theological Aspect of the Resurrection

     THEOLOGICALLY, 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 testimony: (12)

     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 2:32).

     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.
     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).

     pg 1 of 16      

     There 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 this point

13. Torrey, R. A., ref.12, p.299.

     pg.2 of 16     

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:

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 rabbinical sources.

     pg.3 of 16     

     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 (Matthew 28:12,13).
     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 Papers Series.

     pg.4 of 16     

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 it

     pg.5 of 16     

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

     pg.6 of 16     

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.

*     *    *

     There still 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 still there.

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

     pg.7 of 16     

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," i.e., 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.

     pg.8 of 16     

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.

     pg.9 of 16     

("April") 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 

     pg.10 of 16     

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 day.
     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, 46
               16:21                  27:63                9:31               13:32      John 2:19
               17:23                  27:64              10:34               18:33       Acts 10:40

     Justin Martyr, 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 

     pg.11 of 16     

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 these things
unto her.

     The particular 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 in such

     pg.12 of 16   

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

     pg.13 of 16     

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 (Luke 24:39):

     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

     pg.14 of 16     

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 

     pg.15 of 16     

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 in heaven.
     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."   Hallelujah! 

     pg.16 of 16     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter

Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us