4th April, 1999

  But also for us
  Romans 4:18-25

The disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise again. They obviously had not understood or believed Jesus' teaching about His own resurrection. Jesus' shameful death completely shattered their belief that He was the Messiah, the one who would establish God's kingdom. The melancholy words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus expressed the mood of Jesus' first followers: 'And we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.'

We can quite understand why the disciples were not the ones who witnessed the burial or who went to the tomb on the first day of the week. It was the women of Jesus' inner circle, who had followed him from Galilee. Full of love and devotion to their dead friend, they went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body with spices. To their great amazement, they discovered that the stone which covered the tomb-entrance was rolled away and that the tomb was empty. They rushed to report this sensational news to the disciples.

Of itself, the empty tomb could not convince the disciples. Someone could have carried the body away and buried it elsewhere. Only John believed immediately, when he saw the empty tomb. Peter and John found the linen burial wrappings, stiff with dried ointment, just as though they still enclosed a body; and the head cloth lay separately. It was as if Jesus had passed through the shroud.

The disciples were really convinced when personally they met with the risen Jesus, and found their hopelessness and despair turned into joyful belief. The lifelike person they met really was Jesus of Nazareth in bodily form. He was neither a ghost nor an apparition. The disciples saw him with their own eyes, touched him, and ate with him. At the same time, Jesus' body was different after his resurrection. He went through closed doors. He could appear from nowhere and disappear to nowhere. Paul later called this sort of body a `spiritual' or `glorified' body.

The New Testament nowhere describes how Jesus was raised to life from the grave. The risen Jesus appeared to a number of people at different times - on one occasion to 500 people at once-but not to everybody. The Gospel accounts show signs of the disciples' complete surprise at what happened. They describe different parts of an inexplicable course of events. And so they vary from one another.

- over such things as the names and number of the women who came to the tomb, the number of angels they met. These variations make the resurrection more believable, not less. If Jesus' resurrection were a concocted story, the Gospel writers would have been most anxious to provide us with identical versions. Modern psychological studies on courtroom witnesses show that eyewitnesses often give different versions of what they saw, particularly if it was completely outside their normal experience. The accounts of the resurrection are all in agreement about the principal features.

All tell us that the tomb was empty and that Jesus physically appeared to the disciples. So why did Jesus not appear to the masses? Would that not have convinced more people and won them over to the new faith? If we look at Jesus' strategy during his ministry we meet this same phenomenon. He often told people not to speak about the miracles they had seen him perform. It seems that Jesus wanted to prevent people misunderstanding who he was and what he was doing. He wanted them to follow him for the right reasons. So he gave the apostles special teaching on who he was and what he had come to do.

In the same way, the apostles were charged with the task of witnessing both to the truth and to the significance of Jesus' resurrection. The Resurrection is one the cardinal facts and doctrines of the gospel. If Christ be not risen, our faith is vain (1 Cor. 15:14). The whole of the New Testament revelation rests on this as an historical fact. On the day of Pentecost Peter argued the necessity of Christ's resurrection.

Our Lord clearly taught His resurrection. Ten different appearances of our risen Lord are recorded in the New Testament. He appeared to Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre alone. Then to certain women, "the other Mary," Salome, Joanna, and others, as they returned from the sepulchre. Then to Simon Peter alone on the day of the resurrection. Then to two believers on the way to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection. Then to the ten disciples (Thomas being absent) and others "with them" at Jerusalem on the evening of the resurrection day. Then to the disciples again (Thomas being present) at Jerusalem. Then to the disciples when fishing at the Sea of Galilee. Then to the eleven, and to more than 500 believers at once in Galilee. Then to James, then the apostles immediately before the ascension as they travelled from Jerusalem to Mount Olivet.

There they saw him ascend "till a cloud received him out of their sight". On every occasion there was ample opportunity of testing the fact of His resurrection. He conversed with them face to face. They touched him, and He ate with them. In addition, Christ's appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. Luke implies Acts 1:3 there may have been other appearances.

The importance of Christ's resurrection will be seen when we consider that if he rose the gospel is true, and if he rose not it is false. His resurrection from the dead makes it manifest that his sacrifice was accepted. Our justification was secured by his obedience to the death, and therefore he was raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25).

His resurrection is a proof that he made a full atonement for our sins, that his sacrifice was accepted as a satisfaction to divine justice, and his blood a ransom for sinners. It is also a pledge of the resurrection of all believers As he lives, they shall live also. Paul stressed that fact by reminding us of Abraham's situation. There are differences between Abraham's case and the position of Christians. Yet the basic similarity in God's dealings with both is unmistakable. Both believe in God as the one who acts in their behalf and both receive justification.
Of course, the mention of the resurrected Jesus (v. 24) is an element that could not belong to the OT as history, but the intended parallel with Abraham's experience is fairly evident. The same God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead quickened the "dead" body of Abraham so as to make parenthood possible.

Death and resurrection were the portion of the Saviour (v. 25). One can hardly fail to notice the carefully balanced character of this final statement, relating as it does the death of Jesus to our sins and his resurrection to our justification. Beyond question, the statement owes much to Isaiah 53, where in LXX the Servant is pictured as delivered up on account of the sins of the many. Justification appears in the Hebrew text of that chapter (v. 11). Moreover, the resurrection, though not stated in so many words, is implied in vv. 10, 12. Whether Paul's statement is one he has taken over from Christian tradition (cf. 1Cor 15:3, 4), as some think, or is entirely his own composition, may be an open question. But at least one can affirm that this passage shows the early tendency to phrase redemptive truth in brief, creedlike formulations.

The chief difficulty for interpretation lies in the preposition "for" that is common to both clauses. In itself our word "for" is ambiguous. It can mean "because of" or "with a view to." So "delivered over to death for our sins" can mean "because our sins were committed" and it was on account of them that Jesus had to die if salvation were to be procured. Similarly, "raised to life for our justification" can mean that Jesus was resurrected because our justification was accomplished in his death (cf. "justified by his blood," 5:9).

On the other hand, one can interpret the "for" as meaning that Christ was delivered to death to deal with our sins, to atone for them, and that he was raised in order to achieve our justification. In justice to the Greek text it should be granted that the former alternative is the more natural. The idea of "with a view to" is not readily associated with dia, whereas Greek has another preposition (eis) that expresses that idea more clearly and is in fact used in the expression "justification that brings life" (literally, "justification with a view to life" (5:18). Furthermore, if one looks for a strict parallel between the passage and the situation of Abraham, he will see that Abraham's justification did not depend on the factor of resurrection, because he believed and was justified before the quickening of his deadened condition. One could reply, of course, that we should not look for complete similarity in the situation of Abraham and that of believers in the Christian era.

It may be helpful to recognize that justification, considered objectively and from the standpoint of God's provision, was indeed accomplished in the death of Christ (5:9) and therefore did not require the resurrection to complete it. Paul does not mention the resurrection in his definitive statement on justification in 3:21-26. Subjectively, however, the resurrection of Christ was essential for the exercise of faith, since his continuance under the power of death would create serious doubts about the efficacy of his sacrifice on the cross. Furthermore, justification is not simply a forensic transaction, important as that aspect is, but involves also a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ (5:18).

To believe in a Christ who died for our sins is only half the gospel. The resurrection cannot be omitted.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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