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—JOHN 20:1-18.—MAY 31.—
Golden Text:—"I am he that liveth and was dead;
and behold I am alive forevermore."—Rev. 1:18 .
THERE is no more important lesson in connection with the Gospel than that of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The death of Jesus indeed exhibits to us his love, and the love of the Father on our behalf. But in the divine plan, in order for the proper benefit to come to man from the death of Jesus, he must rise from the dead; he must become the Captain of our salvation, as well as our Ransomer. A dead Christ could not be our Savior; as it is declared, "Because I live ye shall live also." (John 14:19.) A proper appreciation of this subject assists materially in straightening out various theological kinks which have troubled the Lord's people for centuries.
(1) We must have the proper thought; that our [R4174 : page 155] Lord really died, that there was no sham about it, that he was not, as some erroneously suppose, more alive than ever while apparently dead. Our Golden Text expresses this thought in our Lord's own words, "I am he that liveth and was dead." He was dead in the same sense exactly that Adam was dead, for he died as Adam's substitute, to take his place under the divine sentence or curse of original sin, thus to make possible the release of Adam and all of his posterity from that sentence. As Jesus did not in death go to a place of eternal torment, neither did Adam go to a place of torment, nor was anything of the kind implied in the sentence upon him, all the creeds of Christendom to the contrary notwithstanding. Let God be true though it make every creed a lie!
This expression is found in the so-called Apostles' Creed. It is in full accord with the statement of the Prophet David, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in sheol" [the tomb, translated thirty-one times hell and thirty-one times grave and three times pit]. The Apostle Peter confirms the same, quoting the Psalmist's words in the Greek; he says, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades" [the grave, the tomb, the state of death]. And the same Apostle, speaking under the inspiration of Pentecost, on the subject of our Lord's resurrection tells us that the Prophet David spake not these words respecting himself, that they were not true of him, that his soul was left in sheol, in hades, and that his flesh did see corruption. St. Peter says of David, "His sepulchre is with us until this day." It would not be his sepulchre if he had risen. The Apostle says these words were spoken of our Lord; that his soul, being, was not left in the tomb; that he was raised from the dead on the third day. There is no excuse for the confusion usually presented to the minds of inquirers on this subject by their teachers. The Scriptures are plain enough in their declaration that the Lord was dead, not alive. To prevent any misunderstanding they make very plain that not merely was our Lord's body dead, but his soul was dead; as we read, "He poured out his soul unto death," "He made his soul an offering for sin"; and again, "He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied." (Isa. 53:10-12.) And again in the text above examined, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell," in sheol, in hades, the tomb, the state of death. To suppose anything else than that our Lord was actually dead would be to suppose that Calvary was all a mockery, a farce, and that our Lord as a spirit being stepped out of the mortal body and deceived his executioners, allowing them to suppose that they killed him, while he was more alive than ever. Scriptural declarations are quite to the contrary of this, and we must stand fast by the Word of God to avoid confusion. During the "dark ages" the theory was foisted upon the Church that a man appearing to die did not do so, but became more alive than ever. Upon this false premise various delusive errors have been built—Spiritism, Theosophy, Purgatory, means for deliverance from Purgatory, praying for the dead, etc., etc.
All scholars are aware of the truth of what we here set forth, but few of them are willing to undertake to combat the error which has become so firmly lodged in the human mind, fearing the loss of influence, honor amongst men and salary. As an illustration of what we say we call attention to a pocket-card bearing the impress of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work, 1319 Walnut St., Philadelphia. This card has on the one side printed the ten commandments and on the other side the Apostles' Creed. It is in the latter, respecting Jesus, that we read, he "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead." Beside the word "hell" there is an asterisk referring to a footnote, which is herewith given: "*i.e., continued in the state of the dead and under the power of death until the third day." This shows conclusively that the Presbyterian Board of ministers recognize the fact that Jesus was dead and not alive during the period of his entombment. He was in neither a hell of suffering nor a heaven of bliss. He was dead, as he himself declared in our text. His resurrection was his coming to life—and again we are told that he was raised from the dead by the Father's power.—Acts 2:24,32.
Our common word cemetery signifies a sleeping place, and the thought thus conveyed is in full accord with the teachings of the Scriptures on the subject. They teach that the penalty of sin is death, and that death would have meant complete, absolute, perpetual destruction had it not been for God's mercy in providing for our redemption from that sentence and a resurrection from the dead through Jesus. And it is because of our faith in God's promise of a resurrection of the dead that we, in common with the Biblical writers, speak of death as a sleep. Thus, "Abraham slept with his fathers," all the prophets and kings "slept with their fathers," Stephen "fell on sleep" to await the awakening time in the resurrection morning, at the second coming of his Redeemer for the establishment of his Kingdom. Similarly the Apostle speaks of the dead in Christ being awakened in that glorious morning, and he even calls our attention to the fact that the whole world may be properly said to be "asleep in Jesus," because our Lord by his death redeemed the whole world of mankind and broke their death sentence and will in due time awaken [R4175 : page 155] them all in the resurrection morning. Hence the Apostle, in writing to the Church respecting their dead and dying friends, both in and out of Christ, says, We sorrow not as others who have no hope, for if we believe that Jesus died [on behalf of original sin on the whole race] and rose again [to be the deliverer of the race from the bonds of sin and death] let us believe also [the logical consequence] that those who sleep in Jesus [whose death through his merit has been changed to a sleep] will God bring from the dead by him. [R4175 : page 156] (I Thess. 4:13,14.) This is in harmony with the Father's arrangement that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust, and that this work shall be accomplished by the Lord Jesus, his honored representative.
The word cemetery, therefore, rightly understood, the sleeping place of the dead, teaches a volume in itself to those who have the ears to hear. It is in full accord with the facts as we know them, and better still in full accord with the divine revelation that the "wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"—by a resurrection from the dead. (Rom. 6:23.) In this connection let us remember our Lord's words, "Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in the which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth," those who shall have passed their trial successfully unto life eternal, instantly perfected, while those who shall not have been approved will be brought forth that they may have the opportunity for rising up out of sin and death conditions by the judgments, chastenings and corrections of the Millennial Age. Our special attention for the moment is called to the word "graves" in this text. We have already seen that sheol in the Hebrew signifies the death state and that hades is its Greek equivalent, but the word here rendered "graves" is a different one, namely, mnemeion, which signifies "remembrance." The proper thought is that although our friends and neighbors of the world of mankind are passing to the tomb at the rate of 90,000 every day, nevertheless they are not blotted out of existence, but are still in divine "remembrance" and subjects of divine power and will eventually be released from the great prison-house of death by him who bought us all with his own precious blood.
It is in full accord with the Scriptural presentation that joy thrills our hearts as we come to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and also as we think of the resurrection morning of the Millennial day and the promise that therein and thereby the Lord God shall wipe away all tears from off all faces, and there shall be no more sighing, no more crying, no more dying, because all the former things shall have passed away. But notwithstanding this natural, proper sentiment the resurrection does not hold its proper place in the minds of the majority of Christian people for the same reason that the second coming of Christ has lost its proper relationship to their faith. The fault lies in the fact that unconsciously another hope than that of the Bible has been instilled, a hope that men do not die but pass immediately into glory or immediately into anguish eternal. To those who thus misread their Bibles the word resurrection can have but little real significance. To all such it is not only a needless and useless proposition but a very inconvenient one. They ask, "Why have a resurrection for those who have gone to heaven and who hope that its joys are eternal? Why have a resurrection for those who have passed into eternal torment? What is to be gained?" Very true, we answer! Under such conditions undoubtedly a resurrection would be of no value and would have no place, but those are not the conditions. The dead are dead; they have neither joy nor suffering while they sleep. They know nothing of the lapse of time; the awakening moment to each will be the next in consciousness to the one when they died. From this standpoint the resurrection is all important, without it there could be no future life or bliss. Hence the Apostle looked forward to the resurrection and pointed us forward to the same event for the culmination of our hopes—and our dear Redeemer indicated that the blessing of the world was dependent upon their hearing his voice and coming forth from the prison-house of death, the tomb, to hear the good tidings, to be judged or tested thereby as to their willingness to be obedient to their Creator. All who will obey the commands of the great King shall by his judgments then abroad in the earth be brought to perfection and life eternal, while those who will decline to be obedient at heart shall ultimately be destroyed in the Second Death.—Acts 3:23.
The Apostle Paul found the spirit of the Greek philosophers intruding upon the teachings of the Gospel even in his day, so that in the Lord's providence it was proper for him to write a wonderful chapter (I Cor. 15) fully setting forth the doctrine of the resurrection and what would be our fate without the resurrection. He says, If there be no resurrection of the dead, our hope is vain, our preaching vain, we are yet in our sins; and those who have already died are perished, and our fate will be the same. If God has provided no resurrection for the dead then our future is hopeless and we might as well eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.—Vs. 12-18.
The Apostle was writing to those who believed in the resurrection of Jesus, but who disbelieved in the necessity for their own resurrection, and so he adds, If the dead rise not then Christ did not rise, and if Christ did not rise, the basis of all your hopes and faith drops out; and if Christ did rise from the dead you must logically believe that the resurrection of his followers will be like his. Indeed, as the Apostle again says, the resurrection of the Church is spoken of as being Christ's resurrection, having a share in Christ's resurrection; because in coming forth the Church will share the same kind of resurrection as our Lord, be like him—put to death in the flesh they will be quickened in spirit, sown in corruption they will be raised in incorruption, sown in weakness they will be raised in power, sown animal bodies they will be raised spiritual bodies. All who now are transferred from Adam to Christ and accepted of God as members of the Body of Christ, members of the Bride of Christ, have his new nature, are begotten of the Spirit and will in the resurrection be spirit beings like their Lord and Head. The remainder of mankind in the resurrection will be like their head, Adam. As is the heavenly one, such will they be who attain to his nature; as was the earthly one, such will they [R4175 : page 157] be who in this Gospel Age do not experience the begetting of the holy Spirit. As to the remainder of the natural seed, their resurrection will be to earthly conditions, a gradual uplifting to the full perfection of human nature, all that Adam had originally, plus experience.
If our Lord became the first-fruits of them that slept, did he not sleep? And do not the others sleep? And if he was awakened, raised from the dead by the Father's power, must not all be awakened and lifted up? A first-fruits implies after-fruits. The Scriptures point out that the Church is included with the Lord as a part of the first-fruits, "a kind of first-fruits unto God of his creatures." (Jas. 1:18.) Thus the resurrection of the Christ began with the resurrection of our Lord and will be consummated with the change of the last member of the Church, which is his Body. "Christ, the firstfruits," will then be complete. But this will not consummate the divine plan, for it is God's intention to have the after-fruits, a great harvest, which will be gathered during the Millennial Age. To this the Apostle refers, saying, Afterwards they that are Christ's during his parousia. Our Lord's parousia will continue for a thousand years; he will be present in the world, present for the very purpose of ascertaining how many of the world, under favorable conditions of knowledge and opportunity and assistance, will be glad to go up on the highway of holiness to perfection, to full recovery out of sin and death. That noble company will be the after-fruits of the divine plan. Earth as well as heaven will be filled with the glory of God when all evil doers shall have been cut off; and then every voice in heaven and earth shall be heard praising him that sitteth upon the throne and the Lamb for the grand consummation of the divine plan!
Those who get the proper grasp of the importance of the resurrection of Jesus will perceive the necessity for the very explicit description thereof given us in the Gospels, because without faith in the resurrection of Jesus we must be without faith in the merit of his death, in the sufficiency of his sin-offering on our behalf and consequently uncertain in respect to our own resurrection, the salvation which shall be brought unto us at the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (I Pet. 1:13.) This accounts for the minuteness of detail. Moreover, not only is it to be remembered that the apostles and the five hundred brethren, converts to our Lord's teaching at the time, were natural men and needed such proofs as would appeal to the natural mind, but it should be remembered also that the message of our Lord's death and resurrection would go to natural men all the way down the Gospel Age and must be so plain and distinct as to be understood by all. After the apostles received the holy Spirit they understood matters connected with our Lord's death and resurrection which they did not understand before. It is similar with us; when we receive the holy Spirit we come to a deeper appreciation of the features of divine truth.
Our Lord took our nature not with a view to keeping it to all eternity, but merely that he might be able to present the ransom-sacrifice on our behalf; that he might die as the man Christ Jesus for the man Adam and his posterity involved with him in his sin. The death of Jesus finished the work which he came to do, as his dying words show—"It is finished." There was [R4176 : page 157] no reason why he should be raised a human being, but every reason to the contrary. As a human being he would have been circumscribed in his power, talents, dignities, honors and thus have been forever humiliated as the result of the great work which he accomplished in obedience to the Father's program. This would be quite the contrary of what the Apostle points out when he declares that God raised Jesus from the dead and highly exalted him far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named. (Phil. 2:9; Eph. 2:21.) Most evidently, then, he does not now have a human nature, but, as the Scriptures declare, a divine nature, for the human nature, instead of being far above that of angels, is a "little lower than the angels."—Psa. 8:5.
So, then, our Lord was put to death in the flesh—not quickened or made alive or resurrected in the flesh—but as the Apostle declared, he was quickened, raised in spirit, a spirit being of the highest order, "changed" from mortal to immortal, because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God."
We see, then, that two great lessons were to come to our Lord's followers: (1) That their Master was no longer dead but alive, risen from the dead; (2) that he was no longer the man Christ Jesus, but Jesus "changed," glorified. "Now the Lord is that spirit."—2 Cor. 3:17.
How could these two great and important lessons be taught to the disciples then and since, seeing, as our Lord says, that they were slow of hearing because they were natural men with natural minds, naturally disposed to think of things only upon the earthly, fleshly plane? The method adopted by our Lord was, first, to make very distinct to their natural sense the fact of his resurrection by the removal of his body from the tomb, by the vision of angels speaking of our Lord as risen, by the clothes and napkins lying in their places as though they had been laid aside by one awaking from sleep. To emphasize this lesson our Lord, although a spirit being, appeared to the disciples in bodies of flesh which on one or two occasions he permitted to be touched. But lest they should get the idea that he was still man, lest they should lose sight of the fact that he was a spirit being appearing as a man, as the angels had frequently done in the past, our Lord appeared in various forms, once as a gardener, once as a stranger traveling to Emmaus, once as a stranger on the shore of Galilee calling to the fishermen and directing them where to cast their nets, twice in the upper room, where he demonstrated that he was not a man by coming into their midst while the doors were shut and, after a brief conversation, vanishing [R4176 : page 158] out of their sight while the door was still shut. In these various ways the Lord demonstrated the double lesson, and remained with his disciples forty days that these lessons might be well learned—first, that he was risen; secondly, that he was changed and was no longer the man Christ Jesus.
No wonder that the early Church, appreciating the value of our Lord's resurrection and the fact that they were no longer Jews under the Jewish Law, gradually changed the day specially set apart for divine worship from the seventh day to the first day of the week—but not with any law or command, simply of good will and of choice, since to the Christian every day is a Sabbath, a holy day in which he is not to do anything which would be wrong or displeasing to the Lord. The custom is a beautiful one and all who love the Lord and appreciate the value of his resurrection must esteem the first day of the week on that account. It was made sacred by our Lord's resurrection; it became, therefore, to his followers the day of hope.
Joining the various accounts of the resurrection morning we find (Mark 16:1) that Mary Magdalene, mentioned in our lesson, was one of the first at the sepulchre while it was yet dark; that with her were Mary, the mother of James and Salome, and (Luke 24:10) Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward. On their way they had been wondering who would roll away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre that they might enter with their spices to complete the embalming work which was discontinued two evenings before because of the Jewish Sabbath then beginning. To their surprise the stone was already rolled away. They tarried awhile wondering, and then in the dim light they perceived that the Lord's body was not there. Perplexed by their further loss Mary hastened to the home of John, with whom Peter was lodging, and related these facts. The two apostles ran to the sepulchre. John, the younger, outrunning Peter, arrived there first. But by this time the other women had departed to communicate the news to the other disciples. Awestricken, John had stooped down and looked in, but Peter, on arrival, still more courageous, went in followed by John. They found things as Mary had described them, the body gone, the linen cloths there. Troubled and perplexed they went their way. Although the indication is that they both believed, their belief was not that the Lord had risen, but that Mary's story was true, that his body had been removed, "for as yet they knew not the Scripture that he must rise again from the dead."—V. 9.
Mary returned to the tomb filled with sorrow; she was weeping and saying in her heart, They might at least have left us the body of our Lord. She looked again into the sepulchre. Ah, now she saw something different. Two angels were present, who said, "Why weepest thou?" intimating that there was no cause for weeping and thus no doubt helping to prepare Mary for the next step of our Lord's revealment. A noise or perhaps a shadow called her attention backward and she saw a man who she supposed was the gardener and she appealed to him, Sir, if you have borne him hence tell me where you have laid him and I will see that you are not further troubled in the matter, for myself and his other friends will care for his remains. Then Jesus, who had hidden his identity by appearing in "another form," like a gardener, in different clothing from that which was parted amongst the soldiers, and different also from that in which he had been shrouded, revealed himself through the tone of his voice which she so well knew, uttering her name only. In a moment the truth flashed upon her mind and she cried, Rabboni, my Master, my Lord!
With us as with Mary sorrow sometimes fills our hearts and we see not the streams of joy and everlasting blessing which the Lord has for us; not until we hear his voice, his word, do we appreciate the truth. But all who know the Master truly know his voice, know his message, know his spirit, his disposition; as he himself expressed it, My sheep hear my voice and they follow me, they recognize not the voice of strangers.—John 3:5.
In her ecstasy Mary was apparently about to grasp the Lord by the feet. Her thought evidently was, This is a vision, which will pass away and I will see my Lord no more; I will hold him tightly; where he is I must be. But Jesus taught her otherwise, and the lesson is a good one for us also. He would have her remember that he had already said, "It is expedient for you that I go away." Why, then, should she detain him? Besides, she was not ready to go with him, she had lessons to learn, experiences were to still further develop her character, to fit and prepare her for the Kingdom blessings. He must go, she must stay. She must learn submission, confidence in him and have a realization that he is able to make all things work together for good to those who trust him. Our Lord gave Mary a message for the apostles, a service she could render him and them—and the intimation is that she should rather have been thinking of such a service instead of holding him by the feet; she should be exercising faith and accepting divine providence and hastening to spread the good tidings of his resurrection to others. The lesson for us is obvious. We, too, have heard of the death and resurrection of Jesus and additionally have learned of God's grace through him, and it is our privilege to carry the message to all of the brethren wherever they may be, to all who have the hearing ear.
Our Lord's declaration, I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God, emphasizes the fact that he went not to heaven when he died, but into the tomb, into the state of death. It emphasizes also the fact that he is our Elder Brother, our forerunner into the Father's presence and into the glories which God hath in reservation for all those that love him, that love him to the extent of willingness to follow in the footsteps of Jesus at any cost along the rugged narrow way.
We refer to these words of the Apostle Peter because they are so generally misunderstood. Some suppose [R4176 : page 159] that our Lord went to Purgatory or to some other place of torment and delivered some discourses during the period of his death. Here we find the error respecting the meaning of life and death still further confusing; we ought to understand that when our Lord was dead he could not preach and that the dead of mankind could not hear; as the Scriptures declare, "In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave [sheol] who shall give thee thanks?" (Psa. 6:5.) "There is no work nor device nor knowledge in the grave [sheol] whither thou goest," whither all mankind go. (Eccl. 9:10.) What, then, is the signification of the words of St. Peter quoted above? We reply that he is referring to those angels who sinned in the days of Noah—the fallen angels. They are the spirits in prison, under restraints, "chains of darkness," until the judgment of the great day. True, mankind in general are said to be in prison also; the tomb is the great prison-house [R4177 : page 159] to which our Lord referred, quoting Isaiah's prophecy and assuring us that ultimately he will open the prison-doors and bring forth the prisoners. Again he assures us that he has the key to this prison, the "key of death and of hades"—the tomb. But men are never referred to as spirits; angels are so referred to; they are spirit beings; man is not, he is a human or earthly being. True, we sometimes speak of the spirit of life, the power of life in man, but we do not speak of it as a thing that could be preached to; it merely refers to his vitality. Every spirit that can be preached to must be a spirit being and must be alive and not dead, in order to be able to receive the preaching.
With these points in mind it is very easy to see that the Apostle was referring to our Lord's preaching in a figurative sense in much the same way that we are in the habit of saying, "Actions speak louder than words." Our Lord's sermons to the fallen angels, the spirits in prison, restrained from liberty in the days of Noah, were along this line of action, not of words. When cast out by our Lord, some of these spirits who had obsessed humanity cried out, "We know thee who thou art!" They knew Jesus was the Logos, the Father's representative who had created them; they knew that he had left the glory of the Father and humbled himself to take the earthly nature instead; they knew that he had consecrated his human life to death as a sin-offering for mankind. In all this they beheld a wonderful lesson, yet we cannot suppose that they any more than the apostles understood that our Lord would be raised from the dead. When, however, he was raised up by the Father's power on the third day and they beheld him again a spirit being of the highest order, it must have been a matter of astonishment and wonderment to them. It preached a lesson, namely, that obedience to God is profitable. It must have preached another lesson also, that God who punishes evil doers is sure to bless and reward all those who seek to do his will.
It was a sermon along still another line, namely: it taught the love of God, his compassion toward sinners, and it gave the fallen angels room to reflect that if God had such compassion upon the poor, fallen human race, he might ultimately have as much compassion upon them and grant them some opportunity for escaping from the punishment which had come upon them for their sins. Theirs, indeed, was a different penalty from that upon man, but why might they not hope that the same God who was rich in mercy upon Adam and his race would have compassion also upon any of those who would have the heart desire to come back into harmony with him. It is our thought that this was a powerful sermon, and we shall not be surprised to find by and by that as a result of this sermon some of those fallen angels repented and did thereafter strive to live in harmony with the Father, hoping that some time divine mercy might be extended to them for their release and their restoration to fellowship with the holy angels. And this very hope is held out by the Apostle when he tells us that the Church shall judge not only the world of mankind but shall also judge angels. This means a judgment or trial time for the fallen angels, the holy angels needing no judging or trial.
Before leaving this subject we call attention to the words of the Apostle descriptive of the resurrection change of the Church. (I Cor. 15:42,43.) He says, "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown an animal body, it is raised a spiritual body." And since the Church's resurrection is really a share or part of Christ's resurrection, the First Resurrection, these words must also describe our Lord's resurrection. The question we raise is, What is it that was sown and that was raised? We answer that it was our Lord's soul or being. When he was thirty years of age he was simply the perfect one, a man separate from sinners. But when he consecrated himself at baptism and was begotten of the holy Spirit he was then a New Creature in embryo. It was our Lord the New Creature who was the heir of all things, the High Priest whose privilege it was to sacrifice. He sacrificed his flesh, his earthly nature, which he covenanted to the Lord at his baptism. He finished the work of sacrificing at Calvary; for parts of three days he was dead, but when the resurrection moment came and the Father raised him up by his own power, he raised up not the sacrificed flesh but the New Creature, the "it" to which the Apostle refers, the "it" which was sown, buried in the flesh, in dishonor, with the wicked and the rich. It was raised the third day to glory, honor and immortality, the divine nature. In other words the New Creature was perfected by being given a new body. Thus seen all of the Lord's people, as was their Lord, are dual beings. They as New Creatures have a reckoned existence while their mortal bodies are reckoned dead. By and by when the mortal flesh is actually dead the New Creature will be perfected by being granted a new body, a resurrection body. Let us remember the Apostle's words and apply them to ourselves, I do count all things but loss and dross that I may win Christ...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection [sharing it], being made conformable to his death.—Phil. 3:8-10.