‘The third day he rose again from the dead’
Timothy Cross continues looking at the Apostles’ Creed
The earliest ever written Christian creed, encapsulating truths of ‘first importance’, stated ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).
The Christian faith rests squarely on Christ’s bodily resurrection. The validity of the whole gospel stands on this truth. Paul stated bluntly that ‘if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Christ’s resurrection has been termed ‘the most attested fact of history’. ‘He presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs’ (Acts 1:3). The Christ crucified on ‘Good Friday’ and lovingly buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb rose from the dead the following ‘Easter Sunday’.
The unembellished evidence of the four Gospels shows that Christ’s grave was emptied and the risen Christ was seen, heard and touched. John’s account of the vacated tomb is so vivid that it can only be eyewitness evidence.
Following his crucifixion, Christ’s lifeless body had been embalmed and entombed in the traditional Jewish way. When Peter and John visited the tomb on the morning of the first ‘Easter Sunday’, however, ‘Simon Peter … went into the tomb … [and] saw the linen cloths lying and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself’ (John 20:6,7).
This was not the work of callous grave robbers. The undisturbed grave cloths minus their occupant can only be explained by a miracle. Christ had passed through the bandages; he had risen from the dead.
The resurrection appearances of Christ during the following forty days were many and varied, to both individuals and groups. Paul wrote how ‘he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me’ (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
Interestingly, the Bible records that the first person to whom the risen Christ appeared was a woman, namely Mary of Magdala. ‘When he rose early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene’ (Mark 16:9).
In the ancient near east, women’s status was lower than in the west today and Mary Magdalene had something of a disreputable past. So the Gospel accounts have a ring of authenticity about them. Had the account of Christ’s resurrection been fictitious, no author would have invented his appearing like this to women in general and Mary Magdalene in particular.
Also consider the circumstantial evidence. What explains the disciples’ transformation from fear to joy? Why were so many Christians willing to suffer martyrdom? What caused the Sabbath to be changed from the seventh to the first day of the week? Only the fact that ‘the Lord has risen indeed’ (Luke 24:34).
Christ’s resurrection is the final proof of his deity – that he was no mere man but God incarnate. He was ‘designated Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4).
Christ predicted that he would rise from the grave on the third day. He also affirmed: ‘I am the resurrection and the life …’ (John 11:25). His resurrection shows that his claims were no idle ones. And it also proves his power to save sinners.
God the Father accepted Christ’s death on behalf of sinners at Calvary. Raising his Son from the dead was the Father’s endorsement and expression of pleasure and satisfaction with his Son’s sacrificial work.
A dead Saviour is powerless to save. But Christ’s resurrection assures believers that our sins have been fully atoned for. He ‘was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).
Christ’s resurrection is also the basis of the Christian’s future resurrection. For the Christian, the best is yet to be. The grave is not the end, for ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Hence a line of ringing affirmation on the Christian’s promised resurrection is included in the Apostles’ Creed: ‘I believe in … the resurrection of the body’. This blessed Christian hope and anticipation is founded on Christ’s bodily resurrection.