A recent survey, published to coincide with the annual Easter celebrations, has revealed that ‘nearly one in four Christians do not believe in the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead’. When one defines ‘Christian’ as someone who goes to church regularly, the percentage of those who do not believe in the resurrection drops to five percent. However, only 57 percent of regular church goers believe every aspect of the biblical record of the resurrection. What, one wonders, do the remaining 38 percent deny?
Given the fundamental nature of the resurrection in the Gospels and the preaching of the apostles in Acts, it seems strange that anyone would both call themselves a Christian and yet deny the resurrection. Paul knew this odd attitude. Writing to the Corinthians, he addressed those who say that there is no resurrection of the dead. His argument is a compelling statement, both of the fact, and of the theology, of this most glorious demonstration of Christ’s power. To reject the resurrection is to reject any meaningful hope in Christ. As he says, ‘If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.’ And then he adds those wonderful words, ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept’ (1 Corinthians 15:19–20).
Knowledge of the resurrection was not new to the Jewish Christians. We know the Sadducees denied it (Matthew 22:23) while Martha affirmed it (John 11:24). A brief survey of the Old Testament helps to show is just how frequently this glorious truth is presented, both in types, examples, and prophecies.
The clearest type of the resurrection is the sacrifice and restoration of Isaac on Mount Moriah. The account is given in Genesis 22. The important points to note are these; Abraham was commanded to go and offer his son as a burnt offering, v.2, and he told his servants that, after they had sacrificed, he and the lad would come again to them, v.5. Abraham therefore expected his son to be restored to him. That he did not expect him to be spared being offered as a sacrifice is shown by the urgency with which the angel of the Lord called to him, v.11; Abraham was just about to strike the killing blow.
If we ask why Abraham believed his son would be restored to him, we note that this son was the child of promise, the son both of Abraham and Sarah. ‘In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’, v.18, which could not be true if the first proof of the promised line perished on an altar. Abraham trusted the Lord to keep his covenant with him, and so his son must be restored. This restoration is a type of the resurrection.
Another type is the reunion of Joseph with his aged father, Jacob. That reunion is recorded in Genesis 46:28–30. Jacob had believed the deceit of his other sons, and accepted that the bloodied and torn clothing presented to him proved that Joseph was dead, 37:29–35. When Jacob laid eyes on his son and threw his arms around him, he knew that Joseph was alive after all. The one who had been dead was in fact alive. If we add the saving benefits Joseph provided for his family—saving of the body from famine, that is, rather than a spiritual salvation—we can see that this too is a type of the resurrection.
The two obvious examples are the son of the widow of Zarephath, and the son of the Shunamite. The first of these is found in 1 Kings 17:8–24. The conclusion to the account is that the raising up of the dead child convinced the mother that Elijah truly was a man of God, in whose mouth the true word of the Lord was to be found.
The second is found in 2 Kings 4:8–37. The woman who provided hospitality for the prophet Elisha appeared to have one regret. ‘She hath no child, and her husband is old’ (v.14). Elisha told her she would have a son, and, in the fulness of time, she did. Some years later the child fell ill and died, and the mother took the matter to the prophet directly. The intervention of the prophet saw the child fully restored.
Leaving aside much that could be said about the significance of these resurrections, it is enough for our purpose to note the fact of the resurrections. God has the power to raise the dead to life, and he is able to use his servants the prophets as instruments to effect this wonderful evidence of his love and power. Those who deny the resurrection must also deny all other resurrections. In the New Testament we read of several, such as the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’s daughter, Dorcas, Eutychus, and Lazarus. To accept any of these but deny the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ points to a far deeper spiritual problem than mere inability to accept a miracle; it points to a fundamental problem in rightly receiving Christ. To deny both these resurrections and that of the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to a very wrong view of Scripture, that we cannot trust the word of God but must subject it to our own opinions. This was, at bottom, Eve’s grievous sin in listening to the serpent.
One resurrection prophecy stands out clearly, since it is quoted in the New Testament. This is Psalm 16:10, ‘Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’ It is quoted in Acts 2:27, when Peter preached to the assembled Jews and proselytes of the diaspora. It is quoted in Acts 13:35–37, when Paul preached to the Jews in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. On both cases the words are applied by the apostles to the Lord Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Their point is that the Jews have no excuse to deny a resurrected Messiah because of what David said. The words are clearly not applicable to David, who is ‘both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us into this day’ (Acts 2:29). Rather, they were spoken by a prophet concerning the seed whom God had sworn to raise up in David, which seed is Christ, vv.30–31.
When our heavenly Father is moved to reveal a matter to his servants the prophets, we are to take careful note of it. Our God does not reveal frivolities, nor does he issue hard and dark sayings that cannot be understood. Rather, the plain meaning of the words is to be taken as their true meaning. As the two apostles show, these words teach that the Lord Jesus Christ should be raised from the dead.
It would seem strange, therefore, if our Lord Jesus did not also prophesy his own resurrection. He did, and on several occasions. To take just one Gospel, that of Luke, we find this to be true. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord taught the disciples that ‘The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day’ (Luke 9:22). The same truth is taught in 18:31–33. Then, after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus taught two disciples the same truth on the Emmaeus road, 24:7, and he taught the disciples it in the upper room, 24:46.
There is much else that could be said about the use made of this truth in the preaching of the apostles. When we read the various Epistles we see how central the resurrection is to the doctrine of our faith. Paul’s lengthy treatment of the subject in 1 Corinthians 15 is worthy of careful reading and study.
In short, how can any who call themselves Christian, deny the resurrection? It is, in a small way, like someone who claims to be a racing driver but who denies there is any point in crossing the finishing line. What sort of racer are they? Not one worthy of the name.
It is highly improbable that any reader of Protestant Truth denies the resurrection, for any who do are of all men most miserable. We are not miserable Protestants, are we? Our joy is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is even now at the right hand of the Father, who raised him from the dead. Is he your Saviour? I pray so.