THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST: The resurrection of Christ gives us the victory over death in its three forms: bodily, spiritual and eternal
Editor: This article is from Otto Thelemann’s fine commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism, 265-270 (orig. published in Detmold, Germany, 1892; available in English and electronically from the Reformed Church in the U.S., 2004).
Otto Thelemann (1828-1898)
Heidelberg Catechism #45 “Q. What benefit do we receive from the “resurrection” of Christ?
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Second, by His power we are also now raised up to a new life. Third, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
The Significance of the Resurrection of Christ
- The resurrection of Christ consists in this, that His soul, glorified by the Father, was united with the body, so that the body was reanimated and also glorified; and thus Christ went forth out of the grave alive and glorious.
- The body, with which Christ arose, was the same that was slain upon the cross and was laid lifeless into the grave, but not without the weakness and mortality of the flesh (John 20:27, Luke 24:39-40, Rev. 1:18, Rom. 6:9).
- The resurrection of Christ was the work of the Triune God. The Father raised Him up (Acts 2:32, Rom. 6:4, Heb. 13:20). Christ arose through the power of His divinity as the Son (John 2:19; 10:18). Through the Holy Spirit the living power of God is ever manifesting itself (John 6:63, Rom. 8:11).
- Christ arose on the third day, not earlier, that His real death might thereby be manifested; not later, because on the third day the decomposition of the body sets in (see John 11:39 (Lazarus)). The body of Jesus was not to be subject to decomposition (Acts 13:35,37; Ps. 16:10). The body of Jesus did not suffer decomposition, but came forth from the grave transformed, i.e., glorified.
- That Christ really and truly arose from the dead, is of greatest importance. For upon it are based all our Christian faith, our salvation and eternal life (1 Cor. 15:17-19).
- The resurrection of Christ is one of the best attested facts. The evidence in its favor is as follows:
- a) It was foretold in the Old Testament, as well as by Christ Himself (1 Cor. 15:4, Ps. 16:10, Isa. 53:8).
As types of it under the Old Covenant may be cited: The going forth of Noah out of the ark (Gen. 8:16); the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22:4, 12); Joseph’s deliverance out of prison and his exaltation (Gen. 41:37); Aaron’s rod that budded (Num. 17:1-11; Jonah, Matt. 12:40). Christ Himself had told His disciples on three different occasions that He would rise again on the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19, and in addition, John 2:19).
- b) Testimony to [the fact of Christ’s resurrection] was borne:
- By His enemies. They knew of Christ’s prediction of His resurrection, and they feared it (Matt. 27:63, 64). But in spite of the stone, the seal and the watch, He arose. The Roman soldiers, who watched the grave, published everything that had occurred, but were bribed by the Jews to tell a lie (Matt. 28:11-15).
- By the angels (Matt. 28:6, Luke 24:23).
- By His appearance to His disciples—to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), to the other women (Matt. 28:9-10), to Peter (Luke 24:34, 1 Cor. 15:5), to the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), to the disciples on the evening of the day of the resurrection, when Thomas was absent (John 20:19-25), to the disciples eight days later when Thomas was present (John 20:26-29), at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-14), upon the mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16), He was seen by above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present—about the year 57 A.D. (1 Cor. 15:6), to James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor. 15:7), lastly to the eleven upon the Mount of Olives at the time of His ascension (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50, Acts 1:4-9).
The Risen One appeared in a glorified body. He ate and drank, not because He needed nourishment, but to convince His disciples of His bodily resurrection (Luke 24:39-43, Acts 10:41). He suddenly appeared in the midst of them, when they were assembled with closed doors. No material obstruction intercepted His glorified body (John 20:21, 26).
After His ascension, Christ appeared to Stephen (Acts 7:55), to Paul (Acts 9:3-5; 1 Cor. 15:8), to John (Rev. 1:12-18). To these He also appeared in His glorified bodily form.
- By His disciples, who had in part failed to comprehend His words, that He would rise again on the third day, and had in part forgotten them (Luke 18:33-34, 24:21). They were not prepared for the appearances of the Risen One and were terrified by them (Luke 24:37), and to some extent they continued to doubt His actual resurrection (John 20:25, Mark 16:14). When these same disciples, after being fully convinced, and having had the experience of the resurrection of Christ, preached the fact and sealed it by their death, they certainly are unimpeachable witnesses.
- By the saints of the Old Covenant, who after the resurrection of Christ came forth from their graves and appeared to many in the city of Jerusalem (Matt 27:52-53).
- By the exalted Savior’s own words (Rev. 1:18).
- By the spread and perpetuity of His kingdom upon earth, which must have a living, not a dead King (Matt. 28:18, 20).
The Threefold Benefit of the Resurrection of Christ
- The first benefit is our justification.
- Christ by His death paid the penalty of sin, and thereby secured our righteousness. Death had no power over Him to hold Him, because He was without sin (Heb. 7:26-27). If Christ had remained in the grave, His death would have been of no benefit to us (1 Cor. 15:17). By His resurrection He proved Himself the Son of God, who made an atonement, not for Himself, but for our guilt, and, therefore, death had no claim upon Him (Rom. 1:4, 4:25).
- His resurrection was necessary, that He might impart to us His purchased redemption, i.e., the forgiveness of sin, and that it might serve as a divine seal thereof to His people (2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 3:7).
- [Caspar] Olevianus [one of the two authors of the Heidelberg Catechism-Ed.]:
“The first benefit is, that the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure testimony that God regards us as righteous, as St. Paul teaches: ‘And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.’ (1 Cor. 15:17) From this we conclude that Christ, being risen, [so] believers no more remain in their sins; not that there is no more sin in them, but that these have been pardoned, and are not reckoned against them. For since Christ died, not for His own sins, but for ours, it must follow that not one of all our sins remains which was not fully punished and paid for, since they were all cast upon the body of Christ. Otherwise Christ could not have arisen, for where yet one sin remains the wages of sin abide, viz., death.”
- The second benefit is our resurrection and sanctification.
- The death and resurrection of Christ are not a mere judicial process, upon which we may rest in an outward way: for when Christ imparts to us righteousness, which is the fruit of His death and resurrection, we must experience the power of that righteousness within ourselves, and the same conduces to our spiritual resurrection.
We are now, i.e., here in this life, raised up out of the life of sin into a new life. This takes place in our quickening or regeneration by the Holy Spirit and through our sanctification, not of ourselves, but “by His (Christ’s) power.” As the mortification of the old man (Quest. 43, I., 1) by the power of Christ’s death is the first part of our sanctification, so the quickening of the new man, the new life in us, by the power of His resurrection, constitutes the second part (Rom 6:4, 6; Col. 2:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 3:9-14).
- Olevianus: “The other benefit is the quickening of the new man. Just as Christ by His resurrection from the dead was declared righteous and free from all our sins (1 Tim 3:16), and was at the same time quickened by the power of God; so also whoever is brought by the same power of God to true faith in Christ Jesus (for faith is brought about by the same almighty power of God, by which Jesus was raised from the dead), is declared free from all his sins and righteous in Christ, and together with Him is quickened unto eternal life (Eph. 2:4-10). Further, the resurrection of Christ is a pledge that we shall be able to stand fast and to endure unto the end in the faith, which we have received through His power, and that we shall not fall away from Him. For as Christ dieth no more, but liveth a life which can never cease nor be destroyed (Heb. 10:12); so also those, who are engrafted into Christ by faith, receive from Him a spiritual life, which is wrought in them by the Holy Spirit, who dwelleth in Christ and in them, a life which can never be extinguished, not even when body and soul are separated from each other (1 Peter 1:3,5,9; Gal. 2:20). Since then Christ’s life has been begun in believers, a life of such a kind and character, that it will never come to an end, so they are to feel assured that He will bring it to perfection.”
- The third benefit is our glorification.
- As Christ by His death became our surety and paid the penalty of our guilt, so His resurrection is for us the pledge, i.e., the certain assurance, that our bodies, after being subjected to temporal death, will, by virtue of His resurrection, be restored again from the dust and glorified, even as He arose from the dead with His glorified body (John 11:25-26; 1 Cor. 15:20-21). Christ is called the first-fruits of them that are asleep, which signifies that, as in the Old Covenant all the other fruits of the field were sanctified by the first-fruit of the field, which was offered and devoted to God (Deut. 26), so must also all the members of Christ arise to eternal glory, because their Head, as the first-fruits, arose gloriously.
- There is a twofold resurrection at the end of the world, one to eternal life, which is the blessed resurrection, and another to judgment or eternal death (John 5:29). But of the blessed bodily resurrection only those will have part, who are here spiritually awakened to the new life and walk in it (Rom. 8:11).
- Olevianus: The third benefit is, that “the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge that our bodies shall also arise to eternal life. For since not only our souls, but also our bodies are members of Christ (1 Cor. 6:15), it would be detrimental to the body of Christ; to allow His members forever to remain in death. Therefore it follows, that by the same spirit by which the body of Christ was raised from the dead, and which dwells in our body, we shall be raised from the dead (Rom. 6:8, 11), and shall be made like the glorious body of Christ, with complete victory over sin and death, and in perfect righteousness and glory (Phil. 3:21). Therefore the happy and blessed resurrection of our flesh and subsequent immortality is already decreed to us by God, since He raised up our Mediator from the dead (2 Tim. 1:10).”