( From Chapter Five: The Path to Immortality from Life, Death and Destiny)
THE TRUE PATH – Part Two
As George E. Ladd observes, “Apart from the resurrection of Christ, all ideas of life beyond death are empty speculations…. The Christian hope, for Paul, is not a theory or a speculation; it was a certain fact which in turn rested upon another event in history – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”1
Soul immortality, reincarnation, “nirvana”, and so on, are all matters of subjective speculation and highly questionable inference. Biblical faith does not work that way. In fact, although “religious”, it is also remarkably empirical. Rather than relying upon speculative philosophy, Paul directs us to the reality of Jesus Christ.2 Resurrection has actually happened already, in the case of Jesus, in whom therefore we trust. Thus the Christian hope is not a fantasy, but a logical inference from the facts central to our faith:
Christ died for our sins…he was buried…he was raised on the third day.(( I Corinthians 15:3-4. ))
Paul summarises much of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in I Cor. 15:3-8, referring both to many contemporaries and to himself as eye-witnesses of the risen Lord. This witness goes back to the earliest days of the Church. This is certainly not just a case of the memory of the Lord, or of the hope He inspired, living on in the faith of the disciples. In fact, no faith or hope were left to them. They were shattered by the cross, till they saw Jesus risen. The crucifixion appeared to make faith in Jesus impossible. Crucifixion was a disgrace (Hebrews 12:2) , a curse (Galatians 3:13), and the idea of a crucified Messiah was “a stumbling block” and “foolishness’ (I Cor. 1:23). Christ’s resurrection is the basis, not the product, of New Testament faith and hope. And He had to prove Himself (Luke 24:1-43, John 20). Nothing less than the resurrection can account for the emergence of the faith that Jesus, crucified, is the Messiah, God’s Son, and for the willingness of the disciples subsequently to worship Him, and to suffer and die in His cause.
The New Testament witness never takes Christ’s resurrection merely as evidence for the natural survival of the human soul. The whole Jesus has died, has been buried and has been raised. In fact, it is because the Bible is totally realistic about death, that the biblical witness concerning the resurrection of Jesus is so compelling! The resurrection faith of the Apostles was not the product of any state of denial about death, or of superstitious belief in ghosts. It was forced upon them by the evidence! By the same token, the resurrection of Jesus was recognised and embraced as an unprecedented act of God, unique in history. That is precisely why the resurrection proves the uniqueness of Jesus as Lord and Messiah. “This Jesus God raised up,” announced Peter, “and of that all of us are witnesses!”3
It was not merely that there were multiple appearances of the risen Christ. The tomb was empty, as all four Gospels and I Cor. 15:3-4 insist. If it had not been so, the Jewish authorities, in their implacable opposition to the spread of the new faith, would have nipped Christianity in the bud by demonstrating otherwise. As for proposals such as, that Jesus did not die at all but revived, or that the disciples stole the body, these are not worthy of serious consideration. The fact that would-be sceptics repeatedly resort to such explanations, merely demonstrates how impossible it is to account satisfactorily for the empty tomb other than by the resurrection! Once again, the Jewish authorities held all the cards, with the full cooperation of the Romans, who were expert at ensuring death!
And, once again, why would the disciples give their lives for what they knew was a fraud? As for Paul himself, he opposed this faith with all his might, till he too saw the risen Christ.4 After that, he was willing to lose all standing with his countrymen, and to be exposed daily to the risk of death, for the sake of faith in Jesus and the resurrection.5 “For his sake,” wrote Paul, “I have suffered the loss of all things” (Phil. 3:8). Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus is a fact: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…” (Phil. 3:10). As Peter declared:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.6
Resurrection is not just a theory. It is a reality already, in Christ. And that means that we must now see both life and death in this new light. Death is real, but not final. Even death is wholly subject to God and His Kingdom.
(c) Resurrection is totally of God, through Jesus Christ, and we must look totally to Him for it. In death, we are utterly helpless and dependent upon the Lord. That is precisely as it should be, for salvation is by His grace alone and entirely to His glory.
God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…7
Our part is to trust obediently in Him, whether in life or in death.
- G. E. Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1979, p.150. This excellent book presents a much fuller case for Christ’s resurrection than I have space for here. See also W. Pannenberg, Jesus God and Man, London: S.C.M., 1984, pp.74-105. An easier read, but excellent, is Michael Green, Man Alive!, London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968
- Colossians 3:8.
- See Acts 2:32-36. “His death and resurrection meant something much more than the liberation of His spiritual self from an outworn vesture of flesh and blood… Nothing in Him had been, as it were, kept back from death… And as the death had been more than merely physical, so the risen life was more than merely spiritual. The whole man had died and risen because he had been content to die.” O. C. Quick, The Christian Sacraments, p.99.
- I Cor. 15:9, Gal. 1:13-17, Phil. 3:6, I Tim. 1:13; Acts 9:1-22.
- Philippians 3:7-11, I Cor. 15:30-32
- I Peter 1:3.
- Ephesians 2:4-5.