April 23 Radio Show

The Importance of the Resurrection

Pastor Dave Chambers
Pastor Tom Schierkolk

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Where was Jesus between His death and His resurrection?

The dead body of Jesus was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. What happened to His soul? One of the more popular answers to this question is based on a cryptic statement in the book of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:18-20 says of Jesus, “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) These words have led many to conclude that Jesus’ spirit went into hell while His body was in the tomb. Unfortunately, what this verse is talking about is not at all clear. One author has said there are over 180 different interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19. A clear consensus about the meaning of the phrase “preached unto the spirits in prison” will probably never be reached on this earth.

The words of the Apostles Creed (not actually written by the apostles) imply that Jesus’ spirit went into hell.  “I believe in Jesus Christ  . . .  (He) was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to hell.” The apostles creed is believed to have been written 50 years after the death of the last apostle, but the earliest existing copies of this creed do not contain the phrase, “descended into hell”, leading many to conclude it was not originally in the apostles creed. Whether this phrase is original or not, it cannot be traced back to a direct teaching of the apostles.

A strong case can be made that Jesus went into heaven on the day of His crucifixion. At His death He said, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Knowing that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who pleased the Father in all things we can reasonably assume that at death He was taken directly into the presence of the Father. This is confirmed by Jesus’ promise to the believing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Either Jesus was with the thief in heaven that very day or He erred in His promise. Since Jesus is God who cannot lie, the latter option is not possible. After His death Jesus went into heaven.  Being the Son of God His spirit was in no way restricted to heaven.

If Jesus did go into hell, though I don’t believe He did, He did not go for the purpose of paying for salvation. Jesus death on the cross did everything necessary to purchase our salvation. His work was finished and the payment fully paid before He died. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished”. Teaching that Jesus had to go to hell to finish the payment for sin diminishes the value of the cross and denies Jesus’ own words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus’ spirit was doing in the days between His death and resurrection. What we do know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. He is alive now and forever to give salvation to those who turn to Him for forgiveness.

Why is the resurrection so important?

Christianity stands unique among all the religions of the world. Only Christianity claims that it’s God became human, died and then returned to life. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is one celebrated and remembered every Sunday of the year by Christian churches all across the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in all human history. The resurrection of Jesus is the seminal moment in all Christianity. That event changed everything. The New Testament is filled with declarations that Jesus died and then rose again. The resurrection is explained in all four gospels and the book of Acts. Jesus’ resurrection is expressly taught in many of the epistles and in the book of Revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a crucial truth on which Biblical Christianity is built. Without the resurrection there is no Biblical Christianity. Without the resurrection there is no forgiveness of sin. Without the resurrection there is no eternal life. Without the resurrection, God is a liar, Jesus is a fraud and every gospel preacher is a charlatan.

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the gospel is a lie. “And if Christ be not dead, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian life is pointless and worthless. “What advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian has no hope of eternal life. “And if Christ be not raised, then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18)

The resurrection is important because it is the ultimate display of the power of God that is now at work in the believer. (“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” Ephesians 1:19-20)

The resurrection is important because it is the evidence that Jesus is God the Son and Savior just as He claimed and as the Bible declares. “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-22)

The resurrection is important because it is the powerful declaration that Jesus is God. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead:” (Romans 1:3-4)

The resurrection is important because if it is untrue, God’s Word is a lie. “We are false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:15)

The resurrection is the lynchpin on which all the gospel hangs, the certification that all the gospel promises are true and the certainty that God is true. Rejoice every Sunday in the remembrance of the risen Savior.

Should Christians cremate their loved ones?

Europeans and Americans have long placed great importance on burying the bodies of their dead. Even in times of war or great poverty the energy was invested to inter the body. Rich and poor alike sought to give their loved ones a proper burial. America’s west in the late 1800’s illustrates the importance that was placed on interring the body. A man could be gunned down in the streets of a western town, unknown to any one, but someone would dig him a grave. Boot Hill may have been filled with anonymous cowboys, but even the most despised were given a “decent burial”.

Over the last several decades America has seen a steady increase of the number of cremations. Some statistics show that nearly half of all deceased are cremated. For Christians considering what to do with the body of their loved ones this can be a difficult decision at a very difficult time. To make this matter even more challlenging the Bible does not give any commands for or against burning the bodies of the dead.

This does not mean the Bible is silent on death and burial. The Bible consistently shows burial as the standard practice of the people of God. Multiple examples of this could be given, starting with Abraham and ending with Jesus. Clearly burial was the normal practice of all those in the Bible. Burning of bodies is only mentioned a few times in the Old Testament and is always associated with judgment. Achan was burned after being stoned to death for his disobedience to God’s command to not take anything from the city of Jericho. The book of Leviticus prescribed two cases when a person’s body was to be burned and both were commanded as part of punishment for specific sins.

The example of the Old Testament must be considered by the Christian. Burial was the normal practice of the Old and New Testaments saints but that does not necessarily mean the Bible teaches burial is the only permissible treatment of a dead body. Generally those who oppose cremation offer theological reasons as the basis for burying the dead. Two of those theological reasons are the resurrection of the body and the dignity of the person.

Often funeral practices are a reflection of the beliefs of the culture. Much unconscious symbolism can be found in the modern tendency to have no funeral or to replace the funeral with a party. Burial points to the future resurrection of the believers. A Christian burial reflects the teachings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that the body is sown in the ground and will spring up again as something greater. The sown seed will spring up into a full, greater existence and the Christian, like that seed, looks forward to springing up again with a glorified body into eternal life. (This does not at all imply that the resurrection of the body is in any way dependent on a proper burial.) Burial points to the Christian’s expectation of resurrection.

Burial respects the dignity of the person who is created in the image of God. While Christian burial does not attempt to keep the body in a pristine a condition for as long as possible (though modern embalming and entombing practice seem to have that effect) it does seek to treat with respect the person who has died. Genesis 1:26-27 states that God created mankind in His own image. Though sin has marred this image Genesis 9:6 and 1 Corinthians 11:7 indicate that man still bears the image of God. That which is a reflection of the image and glory of God is worthy of respect. Cremation intentionally destroys the body and has been seen by many cultures as a sign of contempt. The apparent disrespect in burning a body is not in keeping with the respect due one who is the image of God.

The Christian should give careful thought to the Biblical teachings regarding death, resurrection and the dignity of the person. However, when all things are considered the Bible gives no direct instructions regarding the disposal of dead bodies. The Bible nowhere forbids burning a body after death, nor does it command burial. Crematiòn is a matter of liberty in which each Christian and each family must seek to reach a Biblical conclusion as best as they are able. Each Christian must be careful to not bring an extra measure of suffering on those mourning the loss of a loved one.

Will we still have birth defects in heaven?

Right now all the world suffers and groans under the curse of sin. Everyone bears in their body the effects of sin. Some show the effects more plainly. Cancers, diseases, scars, mental disorders, emotional turmoil and a host of other effects of living in this sinful world afflict mankind. Romans 8:22 says, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” All creation groans in pain and longs for the day of redemption when the miseries of sin are put aside forever. What will the body of the beleiver be like after death? As said in an earlier article, immediately after death the spirit of the redeemed enters into heaven. The physical body remains on earth to decompose and be destroyed. At the day of resurrection, the bodies of all believers will be taken up into heaven. At the resurrection all believers will be given glorified bodies.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that the glorified body will be like and yet unlike the earthly body. This glorified body will be physical, but it will be free from all the effects and curse of sin. “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” The resurrected body will be free from all the corruption and defects of the earthly body. Revelation 21:4 says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

The curse of sin has wide reaching physical effects. Because of sin, there is sorrow in marriage, sorrow in childbirth, sorrow in work and sorrow throughout the entire universe. (Genesis 3) The redemption of Jesus does more than pardon of the men from their guilt. The redemption of Jesus accomplishes the full removal of all the effects of sin. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross there is coming a time when the curse of sin on this world will be removed. When that happens, there will not be any more sorrow, pain nor tears. All the miseries of this lifewill be removed.

Those who have suffered lifelong diseases, mental retardation, massive deformities, genetic defects, will in heaven be free of those things. Some wonder how the person can remain if the entire being is so radically changed. The analogy of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 is helpful. A corn kernel bears little resemblance to the stalk which grows out of it, yet the stalk is unmistakably corn. An acorn and an oak are far different in appearance, but there is no question they are the same. This earthly body is but the seed which will be put into the ground. That which will spring from it will be greater, free from all flaw and without all the innumerable consequences of sin.

Can you prove the resurrection?

Easter Sunday has just passed and it seems appropriate to take a moment for another consideration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Bible offers a number of facts that are legitimate evidences for the truth of the resurrection. Sufficient evidence exists in God’s Word to convince a reasonable person of the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection.

The claim of the resurrection begins with an assertion: Jesus was genuinely dead. The Roman soldiers guarding the cross would have never let a victim down unless he was definitively dead. The men who transported Jesus to the tomb and wrapped Him for burial would never have buried Him if they found the least evidence of life. Jesus was dead when He came down from the cross. The third day after His death, Jesus was restored to life by God the Father.

The Bible offers several evidences that Jesus was miraculously returned to life.  The guards assigned to watch over Jesus’ tomb told the priests of the angelic visitor, the removal of the stone and the empty tomb. These men were not disciples of Jesus. They were at best unconcerned about Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. They had no agenda but the protection of their own interests. The priests who instigated the crucifixion believed the Roman soldiers’ testimony, but conspired with them to lie about the actual events. The priests bought off the soldiers and convinced the soldiers to confess to what would ordinarily have been a capital crime, falling asleep while on watch, rather than admit the supernatural events of that day. While not conclusive proof for the resurrection, these facts compel one to consider carefully what did happen that Sunday morning.

Seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples stood in front of large crowds in Jerusalem and announced that Jesus had risen. The disciples indicted the Jews for their part in crucifying the Messiah and then declared God had restored Jesus to life. Of the tens of thousands in Jerusalem who heard this message, including the religious leaders of the nation who had condemned Jesus to death, many would have known the exact location of Jesus’ tomb. If Jesus was still in the grave, any of those who rejected the apostles preaching could have readily shown the disciples and the masses the body of Jesus. No one did. The inability of the skeptics to refute the apostles claims gives strong evidence to the empty tomb and points to the genuineness of the resurrection.

The four gospels and the letter of 1 Corinthians dedicate significant sections to Jesus’ resurrection. The first gospel was written less than 20 years after Jesus’ death. The letter to the Corinthians was written about 25 years after Jesus’ death. Many of those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus death and resurrection were still living. The gospel writers and the apostle Paul mention specific individuals who saw the risen Jesus. Any of these eyewitnesses could testify to having personally seen Jesus alive after His resurrection. Besides the specific ones named Paul cites an additional five hundred Christians who saw Jesus alive after His death. The vast multitude of witnesses give strong evidence, evidence that would be practically incontrovertible in any other case today, to the truth that Jesus died and rose to life again. When one considers the intense persecution these believers faced because of their commitment to Jesus, the possibility of a conspiracy to dupe the world seems very unlikely.

The resurrection is a certain event that can be attested to by strong evidences. One can believe the claims of the Bible about Jesus and know that He is the Savior who died and now lives forever. Because Jesus is alive, those who believe Him will have eternal life.