Great Days in History (Part 4): The Day of Jesus’ Resurrection

Great Days in History

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

On the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion, an event occurred that was “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3) – the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Without Jesus being raised from the dead, our “faith is worthless” (1 Corinthians 15:17); but since He was raised from the dead, we have hope (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

The Background

Jesus was buried – After Jesus was crucified, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus in order to bury Him. Pilate granted him permission, so “Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away” (Matthew 27:59-60).

There are many who want to deny the resurrection of Jesus and will claim that Jesus was not really dead after His crucifixion. However, Jesus did not just appear to be dead; He was truly dead. The soldiers who crucified Jesus – certainly not ones who would plot together with Jesus and the disciples to stage His death – were able to see for themselves “that He was already dead” (John 19:33). This was why they did not break His legs like they did with the two thieves (John 19:31-32). There was no need to do this since Jesus was already dead. To confirm that He was really dead, John recorded, “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34).

Even one of Jesus’ disciples – Joseph of Arimathea – prepared His body for burial and left Him in a sealed tomb. He did not see signs of life while preparing His body. When he put Jesus’ body in the tomb, he sealed the tomb and left. Despite the fact that Joseph was a disciple, it seems as though he had no expectation that Jesus would be raised; so he prepared His body for an actual burial.

The tomb was guarded – The chief priests and Pharisees were determined to prevent anything from happening to the body of Jesus. So they asked Pilate to make the grave secure and explained the reason for their request: “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first’” (Matthew 27:63-64).

The Jewish leaders were concerned that Jesus’ disciples would remove the body, then claim that He was alive. With the following that Jesus was able to gain before His death, they knew this would lead even more people to believe in Him. So Pilate said, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how” (Matthew 27:65). They certainly would have done this because they did not want there to be any credibility to reports that Jesus might be alive. They wanted to be able to show that the tomb was still sealed (Matthew 27:66).

The disciples were in fear – After Jesus’ resurrection, John recorded, “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). Before Jesus appeared to them, these men were afraid. After Jesus was killed, they surely thought they could be too. Just a few days before this, Jesus warned them, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20). They had every reason to believe that they were going to be targeted next.

Interestingly, this was after the first report that Jesus had been raised. Mary Magdalene told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). However, at first, the disciples were skeptical and “would not believe” this report (Luke 24:11). Yet even if they did believe Mary’s report – or even if they just wanted to believe it – there was still uncertainty about what was to happen next. Even with Jesus being raised from the dead, they still did not know what troubles and persecution they were going to face in the near future.

The Events on That Day

The tomb was found empty – “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave” (Matthew 28:1). However, when these women arrived, they saw that the stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was gone. Instead of finding Jesus, they were greeted by angels who announced that He had risen: “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying’” (Matthew 28:5-6). These women were able to see for themselves that the body of Jesus was not in the tomb.

It is important to note that the ones who came were not expecting to find the tomb empty. On the way, the women “were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’” (Mark 16:3). When they reported to Jesus’ disciples what they found, their “words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them” (Luke 24:11). This is significant because of the false story that would be spread by Jesus’ enemies to try to explain away the empty tomb – that the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:13). Not only did the disciples not steal the body, they also expected the body of Jesus to still be on the tomb when they heard this report. When they would finally see Jesus, it would cause them to have to change their minds about what had happened.

Jesus began appearing to His disciples – He initially appeared to the women who came to the tomb (Matthew 28:9). According to Mark’s account, Mary Magdalene was the first of these women to see Jesus alive from the dead (Mark 16:9). He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31), then to the rest of the disciples (Luke 24:36-43). In his letter to Corinth, Paul listed many of the ones who were eyewitnesses of Jesus after His resurrection:

And that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8).

All in all, Jesus appeared on several different occasions to hundreds of individuals to show that He had in fact been raised from the dead.

Jesus’ enemies tried to explain away the empty tomb – As we already noticed, the chief priests and Pharisees were worried about Jesus’ disciples stealing His body and claiming that He had risen from the dead; so they requested and received a guard to secure the tomb as best they could (Matthew 27:62-66). However, this did not prevent Jesus from being raised from the dead and departing from the tomb. So they had to come up with another explanation for what happened.

Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.” And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.’ And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day” (Matthew 28:11-15).

There were some obvious holes in their story. Perhaps the most notable was this: if they were asleep, how would they know Jesus’ disciples came and took the body? However, the fact that this story was illogical did not prevent it from spreading. People will often believe what they want to believe (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4), even if it is not in harmony with truth and reason.

Key Lessons

Jesus’ power over death – As we noticed in the lesson about the day of Jesus’ birth, He came into this world in the form of man (Hebrews 2:14; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 2:9). One of the reasons for this was so He could destroy Satan’s power over death.

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Others had been raised from the dead prior to Jesus’ resurrection. In the Old Testament, Elijah raised a widow’s son (1 Kings 17:21-22), Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:32-35), and a man was raised when his body touched the bones of Elisha’s dead body (2 Kings 13:20-21). During the ministry of Jesus, He raised the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:52-55), and Lazarus (John 11:43-44). When He was crucified, there were dead saints who were raised (Matthew 27:52). However, Jesus was the first to be “raised from the dead…never to die again” (Romans 6:9).

Hope for the resurrection – Those who had been raised from the dead prior to Jesus’ resurrection did die again. But through Jesus, we have hope for a resurrection like His. However, this hope is only for those who will obey Him. Notice what Paul wrote:

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6:4-8).

If we will die to sin, be buried with Christ in baptism, and walk in newness of life, we can also be raised “never to die again” (Romans 6:9). Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Even though we may die, we will receive the reward if we are faithful to Him. Those who have “fallen asleep in Jesus” will receive the same reward as those who are “alive and remain” when the Lord returns (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

Therefore, we do not need to fear death. In writing of the hope of the resurrection, Paul told the Corinthians, “The last enemy that will be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Regarding this event, Paul wrote, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Even if we face persecution for the cause of Christ, we can have confidence in the hope of the resurrection. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). We may be “considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” yet we “overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:36-37).

Evidence for our faith – God does not expect us to take a “leap of faith,” but to believe based upon the evidence He has given us. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV).

When it comes to having faith in the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, we have evidence upon which to base our faith. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses that saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Not only did these individuals provide testimony, they affirmed their believe in the resurrection despite being persecuted for it (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29, 40-42; 7:54-8:4; et al.). The only reason why they would do this was because they knew that Jesus’ resurrection was a fact and they knew this gave them hope.

Yet this was more than just evidence that God could raise someone from the dead. Paul wrote, “Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4). Jesus’ resurrection proved He was the Son of God and verified all of His claims to that effect.

Conclusion

Jesus died on the cross in order to make salvation possible for us. However, His sacrifice would have been ineffective without the resurrection. His resurrection gives us hope. If we will conform to His death, burial, and resurrection and then walk in newness of life, we can be “united with Him…in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5).


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