Light of the World

Booklet 24

Jesus' Victory Over Death

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

"Christianity," said one writer, "is a religion of the open tomb." Keep that thought in mind as you study this booklet on the resurrection. The founder of Christianity could not be kept in the prison house of death. An angel rolled the great stone from the door of Joseph's new tomb, and the Son of God came forth triumphant over death. "I am the resurrection and the life," He said (John 11:25).

The apostle Paul argues that the Christian faith stands or falls upon the fact of the resurrection of Christ.

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:13, 14).

Our hope of deliverance from sin in this world (see Romans 6:4, 11, 12) and the reality of life in the next (see 1 Corinthians 15:17-23) are dependent upon the resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation of God's Son, His sinless life and vicarious death, would have availed nothing if He had been kept a prisoner of death. The saints of all ages would remain in their graves, sealed forever, if Christ had not broken the power of death and come forth to immortal life. And Christians would have been "false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised" (1 Corinthians 15:15).

Frank Morrison, a skeptic, made a searching analysis of the Scriptural records of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and then wrote a book titled, Who Moved the Stone? He confesses that he started out to write a book different from the one he finished. The evidence in favor of the resurrection was so forceful that he was compelled to write of the event as a true historical fact. It has been affirmed that there is no single historic incident more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.

The actual bodily resurrection of Christ was attested by hundreds of eye witnesses who saw Him alive in His risen form. And there were witnesses who wrote down for future ages what they saw. John and Matthew, for example, who must be recognized as honest and sane men, were skeptical and incredulous of the resurrection until they actually saw the risen Savior with their own eyes (see Mark 16:9-14).

As we return to Calvary, we see that Jesus is now dead.

"It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last" (Luke 23:44-46).

When Jesus bowed His bleeding head and died, it was about three o'clock on Friday afternoon. Friday was known as the "preparation day." Since the Jews did not want to desecrate the Sabbath by allowing the bodies of the victims to remain on the cross during its holy hours, they requested Pilate that the legs of the three men might be broken and their bodies taken down.

"The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water" (John 19:32-34).

Christ's death occurred within six hours of His crucifixion. This was unheard of, for death on the cross was always a prolonged and lingering process. But His heart had been broken under the awful pressure of the world's guilt. His life had been crushed out by the weight of our transgressions. "He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Because Christ's heart was broken for us, we may find pardon and peace with God. "By his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Scripture had declared: "He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken" (Psalm 34:20). And this Scripture was fulfilled. Because Jesus was already dead, not a bone was broken (see also Exodus 12:46).

On the afternoon of that same day, Christ's body was taken from the cross and buried in a tomb provided by a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. "And the Sabbath was about to begin" (Luke 23:54).

"Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment" (Luke 23:50-56).

Now that Jesus was dead, the concern of the priests did not end as they thought it would. Indeed, they were as worried as when He was alive. They had heard of His promise that He would rise from the dead, and they respected that word of power. Hadn't He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, and the son of the widow of Nain, and even Lazarus who had been in the tomb for four days? What was to prevent Him from coming forth to life Himself? So they went to Pilate and begged that the tomb be made sure and the stone sealed. As an excuse, they argued that His disciples might come and steal away His body (see Matthew 27:62-66). Therefore the tomb was closed with the Roman seal and guarded by armed legionnaires. But nothing could hold the Lifegiver in that grave, as we will see.

The Sabbath that Jesus spent in the grave and the Saturday night that followed it passed slowly indeed for the disciples. The darkest hour just before daybreak had come. Christ was still a prisoner of death in His narrow tomb. The great stone was in its place. The Roman seal was unbroken, and the Roman guards were keeping their watch. There were unseen watchers too. Satan and his angels were there. Like the priests who had followed their prompting, they hoped to seal the tomb of God's Son forever. But the heavenly Father sent angels that excel in strength, and they, too, were guarding the tomb. Then, suddenly . . .

"There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men" (Matthew 28:2-4).

The angel of the Lord rolled the stone away as if it had been a pebble. And the Lord of life came forth in His risen form. The hour had come for the fulfillment of Christ's words:

"I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father" (John 10:17, 18).

The guards fell prostrate to the ground while the earth trembled beneath them. An earthquake had marked the hour when Christ died. Now, another earthquake marked the moment when He rose from the dead.

When the dazed soldiers revived, they fled from the scene trembling with fear, and ran straight for the city. "Some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened" (Matthew 28:11).

When the guilty Caiaphas heard this news, his face must have grown pale like a dead man's. For a moment he was speechless. Then he blurted out these foolish words to the soldiers: "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep' " (Matthew 28:13). Caiaphas knew that Roman soldiers caught sleeping on their watch would be executed. So he continued: "If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble" (Matthew 28:14).

Then money was placed in the soldiers' hands. Thus they sold their integrity, bribed to keep silent about the greatest event in human history. How many voices since that day have been stilled by the touch of gold or the crisp rustle of currency!

When Christ arose from the dead, many saints arose with him. He brought forth a multitude who had been held captive by death. These risen saints were a pledge and sample of the great host of the redeemed who will be raised from the dead when Christ comes the second time. When the Savior ascended to heaven forty days after His resurrection (see Acts 1:3), the multitude of risen saints ascended with him (see Ephesians 4:8). During the forty intervening days, these godly men and women appeared to many of the people in Jerusalem, testifying to the power of their Deliverer (see Matthew 27:52, 53).

Friday afternoon, after the death of Christ, Mary Magdalene and the other women followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb. Then they returned to their homes and prepared spices and ointments with which to embalm the body of their Lord. It was getting late, and the Sabbath, which begins at sunset, was approaching. Out of respect for its sacred hours, they waited until the day was passed. Then early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, they came to the tomb to embalm Christ's body (see Luke 23:54-56; 24:1-3). Sadness filled their hearts. Like the eleven disciples, they were crushed and broken.

Words cannot describe the consternation in which the friends of Jesus were plunged during the long hours which elapsed between the crucifixion and the resurrection. . . . Nothing was farther from their expectation than the resurrection; they imagined that all was ended for earth, and felt nothing but the vast void created by such a separation. Their hearts remained tenderly attached to Jesus; but their love at such an hour could not but be full of sorrow and dismay. . . . It was as though the great stone of his sepulcher had been rolled upon their feeble faith. They were like men crushed (Pressense, Jesus Christ, page 485).

When the women arrived at the tomb early Sunday morning, Christ had already risen. Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive. When she found the tomb empty, she ran to Peter and John and told them:

"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!" (John 20:2).

The two disciples then hurried to the tomb and found it just as Mary had said (see John 20:3-10). Mary followed the disciples to the tomb, and after they had returned to Jerusalem, she looked into the sepulcher and saw two angels who appeared to her as men. "They asked her, 'Woman, why are you crying?" 'They have taken my Lord away,' she said, 'and I don't know where they have put him' " (John 20:13). Then she turned away, trying to find someone who could tell her what had been done with Jesus' body. Just then, another voice addressed her. " 'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?' " (John 20:15). Thinking he was the gardener, Mary replied:

"Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him" (John 20:15).

If no one else wanted Jesus' body, she did! She would find a place for Him. Now in His familiar voice, Jesus said, "Mary!" Instantly she recognized that voice. Turning, she sprang toward Him and fell at His feet as if to embrace Him. "Rabboni!" she cried. Christ raised His hands, saying, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God' " (John 20:17). Overjoyed, Mary hurried from the tomb to the disciples and told them that she had seen the Lord (see John 20:18).

Late in the afternoon of the resurrection day, two of the disciples, one of whom was Cleopas (see Luke 24:18), were making their way to their home in Emmaus, a little town eight miles from Jerusalem. Discouraged and hopeless, they were joined by a stranger who suddenly appeared on the scene.

"He asked them, 'What are you discussing together as you walk along?' They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, 'Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?' " (Luke 24:17, 18).

Then they told him of their Master and of the disappointment that had come with His death. They declared that he "was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people" (Luke 24:19). But "the chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him" (Luke 24:20). And they added:

"We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place" (Luke 24:21).

Then Christ answered them:

"How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (Luke 24:25, 26).

The disciples wondered who this stranger might be who spoke with such earnestness, tenderness, and sympathy, and inspired hope in their hearts. Then Jesus, "beginning with Moses . . . explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). He wanted their faith to be anchored to the Scriptures.

The disciples had looked upon Christ's death as the end of all hope. Now He showed them from the prophets that His crucifixion was the strongest basis for their faith and that the prophets had pointed forward to His death and resurrection as the very center of the plan of salvation.

His cruel trials before Annas and Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod, His beatings in the judgment hall, and His death on Calvary, had all been foretold by the gospel prophet.

"By oppression and judgment he was taken away. . . . For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken" (Isaiah 53:8).

As Jesus died on the cross, the very words that David had written concerning the dying Savior came to His lips:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).

His death by crucifixion was a subject of prophecy:

"They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me" (Psalm 22:16, 17).

When the soldiers parted His garments and cast lots for them, they were fulfilling prophecy:

"They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing" (Psalm 22:18).

Even Judas' treachery was foretold:

"Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Psalm 41:9).

After reasoning thus from the Word of God with the two disciples. Jesus was invited to their humble home. There, the simple evening meal was placed before them. As He stretched out His hands to bless the food, they recognized Him. "It is the Lord Jesus," they exclaimed. "He is risen from the dead." Then the Savior vanished out of their sight.

"They asked each other, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?' " (Luke 24:32).

In their joy they hurried to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. Though night had fallen, they hurried on until they reached the upper room in the city and announced the glorious news to the disciples.

Cleopas and his companion pressed into the room and "told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread" (Luke 24:35). There was much excitement in that upper room. "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon," the disciples exclaimed (Luke 24:34). And as they talked Someone else stood before them, and every eye was fastened upon Him. He had not knocked for entrance, nor had He been admitted. No footstep had been heard. So the disciples were startled as He began to speak. Clearly and distinctly the words came from His lips: "Peace be with you" (Luke 24:36). The Scripture says:

"They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, 'Do you have anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it, and ate it in their presence" (Luke 24:37-43).

They had not dared to believe that it was actually their Lord. But now He had eaten before them. Faith and joy took the place of unbelief, and with feelings that no words could express they acknowledged their risen Savior.

The disciples had come to this room in Jerusalem for mutual comfort and protection.

"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord" (John 20:19, 20).

Not until the first day of the week had passed—in the evening—did Christ appear among them as a group to establish their faith in His resurrection. Until then—all through that heartbreaking Sunday—the disciples doubted and were afraid. When it finally dawned upon them that Christ was alive, they "were overjoyed" (John 20:20). That was a time of supreme rejoicing!

On this occasion Jesus opened the minds of these beloved men that they might understand the Scriptures.

"He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things' " (Luke 24:46-48).

The disciples now began to realize the importance and the extent of the great work to which they had been called. They were to be witnesses and to proclaim to the whole world the events of Jesus' life, His death, and resurrection. They were to preach the gospel of salvation through repentance and the power of the Spirit.

"And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit' " (John 20:22).

The Holy Spirit was not fully manifested at this time, for Christ had not yet been glorified in heaven. The more abundant outpouring of the Spirit would not take place until after Jesus' ascension to heaven. But we will learn more about this in the next booklet.


Original manuscript author: Beatrice S. Neall
Editors revised edition: Barbara Shelley, Sue Robinson
Design and Layout: DEC Designs, Morisset, New South Wales Australia.
Used by permission of Discovery Centre, Wahroonga, New South Wales, Australia.
Graphics: Still images taken from Matthew video, copyright © 1997, 2004 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
Scripture: Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Cover Picture: "The Light of the World" by Nathan Green, ©2004 All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2007 revised edition, Voice of Prophecy, California.