The Resurrection in Christianity
Dr. Azer Bestavros
The Resurrection in Christianity
The resurrection of the Lord is a preview of our own resurrection from death, when Christ comes again: "And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power." [1 Corinthians 6:14]. Without the promise of the resurrection, Christianity would be hollow. Without resurrection, Christianity reduces to a philosophy, a code of conduct, a way of life, but not a religion. This is clear in Paul's message: "Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain... For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [1 Corinthians 15:12-20]. The remainder of this chapter by Paul is an excellent reference for the importance of the resurrection to Christianity.
The second coming of the Redeemer and our own resurrection is not new in Christianity. It was clearly prophesized in the Old Testament: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" [Job 19:25-27] Also, we read about the power of resurrection and the hope in redemption: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes." [Hosea 13:14]. And as a clear prophesy about being raised from death with Christ, who stayed in the tomb for two days and resurrected on the third day, we read: "After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight." [Hosea 6:2] Jesus Christ Himself was questioned by the Jews regarding the resurrection and what it would be like: "The Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him about [marriage laws and the life to come], Jesus answered and said to them, `You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.'" [Matthew 22:23,29-32]. The same questions came up again during Saint Paul's ministry, and Paul explained that in the life to come, like the risen Christ, we will have spiritual bodies. He explained that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God", that "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, ... the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." [1 Corinthians 15:52].
Thus, the Jewish people knew about the death and resurrection of the Messiah; yet they decided to ignore their own scriptures and deny it. From the dawn of Christianity, they fought it. After they crucified Jesus, they feared that He may indeed rise from the dead, which (in their eyes) was more dangerous than all of Christ's teachings, for which He was crucified. At all costs they tried to prevent that from happening, so they got Pilate to "command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, 'He has risen from the dead.' So the last deception will be worse than the first." [Matthew 27:64]. And, indeed, "they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard." [Matthew 27:66]. But all these plans did not prevent Christ's resurrection. On the contrary, these plans confirmed Christ's resurrection and served as a reminder to the Jews who had to buy the guards silence with money [Matthew 28:11-15]. Perhaps money could buy the guards, but not the disciples full of the Holy Spirit! So, on Pentecost, Peter reminded the Jews of what they have done: "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know; Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him: 'I foresaw the LORD always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh will also rest in hope, because You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption." [Acts 2:22-27, Psalms 16:8-10].
In today's world, we find many people ready to embrace Christianity as a wonderful "value system" or "way of life" or even "culture". But, these people have great difficulty accepting the risen Christ. Resurrection seems to be the one thing that many people find "illogical" about Christianity. And illogical it is, for the resurrection of Christ is not an act of a human being; it is an act of God, the Incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth. Believing in resurrection is believing in Christ's divine nature, which is at the core of Christianity. Believing in the resurrection and the eternal life to come, and believing in the divine nature of Christ are two sides of the same coin. One can't believe in one but not the other.
The central role of the resurrection in
Christianity is clear in Acts; whenever the Apostles preach about Jesus, they
preach about His resurrection. It is this insistance
on preaching about the resurrected Jesus that gave them strength and annoyed
the Jewish authorities: "Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the
captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly
disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection
from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the
next day, for it was already evening" [Acts 4:1-3]. Of all the teachings
of Paul, "the resurrected Christ" was the one teaching that upset the
Jewish and Greek Philosophers of Athens: "Then certain Epicurean and Stoic
philosophers encountered [Paul]. And some said, "What does this babbler
want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer
of foreign gods," because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus,
saying, `May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?' [Acts
17:18-19] And to that Paul preached nothing other than the raising of Christ
the Lord who will come again on judgement day: Acts
17:30 "... now [God] commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has
appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man
whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from
the dead." [Acts 17:30-31] And again when Paul had to defend himself in
Rome, he stood firm in his belief regarding our resurrection in Jesus:
"And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to
our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and
day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the
Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the
dead?" [Acts 26:6-8]
Resurrection symbolizes power over sin: "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." [Romans 8:11]. It symbolizes power and also hope in that power over death: "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. [Philippians 3:10-11] Saint Paul makes a very important link between Baptism (which is the door that leads to Christianity) and Resurrection. "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the liken c10 ess of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." [Romans 6:4-6]. As Christians we should remember that, through the death and resurrection of Christ the Lord, "sin shall not have dominion over us". We are free; we have eternal life. Thus, with Saint Paul we remind each other "not to present [our] members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but to present [our]selves to God as being alive from the dead, and [our] members as instruments of righteousness to God." [Romans 6:13] so that we join the multitudes in the song of victory: "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." [1 Corinthians 15:55,57]
Christianity is not the first religion to introduce a God that conquered death. An example from ancient Egyptian mythology is the story of Osiris, his death, and his coming back to life through the tears of his loving wife Isis. How do we answer people who may imply that the resurrection of Christ is a recycling of these old myths?
Belief in afterlife, or more precisely in resurrection, existed in other religions before Christianity. So, what does that prove? Some will say, it proves that Christianity "borrowed" these beliefs from these other religions, and some will say, it proves that Christianity got "corrupted" by these beliefs. The answer that people seem to (purposely?) overlook is that these ancient beliefs are nothing but "fuzzy" expectations that were handed down from generation to generation from one source! For indeed, we know that the promise of salvation given to Adam and Eve predates all these so-called religions. In a sense, one may argue that all these pre-Christian myths about resurrection prove that, since the dawn of history, men lived and died with the hope of a life-to-come, a life to be purchased by the ultimate sacrifice promised in Genesis and committed in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. It is on that hope that the prophets of the Old Testament reposed and it is on that hope that we Christians rejoice.
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