“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Romans 1:1-4
It is easy to see from the beginning of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that he is extremely serious about God’s call on his life. Paul says he is a bondservant, apostle, separated to the Gospel of God. Out of all of the letters Paul wrote to churches, the opening of Romans is the most intense and packed with Christian doctrine.
We come today to the central truth of Christianity – in fact, the truth upon which Christianity rises or falls – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
The Greek is ex anastaseos nekron. The literal translation is “by a resurrection of dead persons.” How surprised would you be if someone you knew had died, someone you had seen buried, appeared to you alive? Shocked certainly comes to mind. You might rub your eyes and take a second and a third look because it’s something you had never seen before. What would you think of someone who came to you and told you they had seen a dead person walking around alive? You would probably think they were imagining things. That’s how Christ’s disciples reacted when they first heard that Jesus had risen from the dead and then later when they saw the risen Jesus in the flesh.
“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” Mark 16:9-11
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the otherwomen with them, who told these things to the apostles. And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:10-11
“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord … Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” John 20:19-20, 24-29
“ Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have. When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence. Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.‘ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to risefrom the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” Luke 24:36-49
“Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.” Mark 16:14
The reactions we see in the Gospel accounts are certainly understandable from a human perspective. Even though Jesus had told them He would rise from the dead, they either didn’t believe Him or didn’t understand what He had said. They were genuinely surprised by Christ’s resurrection.
It wasn’t that the disciples didn’t believe in a future resurrection. Isaiah wrote, “Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19)
The prophet Daniel wrote:
“At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:1-3
One of the great debates between Pharisees and Sadducees during the time of Christ and the apostles was about the resurrection of the dead.
“The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him …” Matthew 22:23
“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.” Acts 23:6-8
When Jesus spoke with Martha about the death of her brother, Lazarus, He said: “Your brother will rise again.” To that, Martha replied: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”(John 11:23-24) The disciples had seen Jesus raise people from the dead, but it was closer to the time of death and may have seemed to them like resuscitation rather than resurrection. Lazarus was a different situation because he had been dead several days, long enough for the beginnings of physical decay. There was no question that what Jesus did that day was raise Lazarus from the dead.
The Lord’s reply to Martha just before He raised her brother from the dead was this: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Martha’s answer was that she did believe Him: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27) Jesus did raise Lazarus from the dead, much to the amazement of everyone who saw it and heard about it.
Jesus had the power to raise people from the dead and God raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:33; Romans 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; Galatians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). As Paul wrote in Romans 1:4, the resurrection from the dead was integral to the declaration of Christ to be the Son of God.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”