“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers 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 15:3-8).
On the third day he rose again
Having heard about the death of Jesus in the previous lines of the Creed, we now turn to the astonishing miracle of the resurrection. On the third day, Jesus rose again. We’ll look at how this was predicted by Jesus and others: how it was emphatically physical; how it was a public event; in what ways it demonstrated Jesus’s power; and how it was a pledge of our own resurrection.
Jesus confidently predicted not only his death but also his resurrection, several times in the Gospels (e.g. Mark 8:31, 9:31, and 10:34). After it happened, Jesus said to his disciples:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Luke 24:44-46).
The resurrection of the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament. Isaiah 53 contains a prophecy of the sacrificial death of God’s Suffering Servant, and it also contains a hint that he will not remain dead: “Though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10-11 NIV).
The apostles also came to see in Psalm 16:9-10 a hint of what was to come: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” The writer, who is asking God to preserve his life, is confident that his flesh will remain secure, because even if he ends up in Sheol (the place of the dead), God will not allow him to remain there and decay.
This is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Christ was raised again on the third day “in accordance with the Scriptures” (see also Acts 26:22-23). It should not have been a surprise!
Jesus’s resurrection from the dead was not a party trick. He really did die. And when he rose again from the dead, he was not a ghost. He ate and drank with his disciples (Luke 24:41-43), which would be a bit icky if he was a ghost! Doubting Thomas was invited to touch the wounds Jesus still had from his death on the cross (John 20:24-28), and so were the others: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself,” said Jesus, “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39).
Jesus appeared in public to his disciples. Paul lists some of the people he appeared to in the reading above from 1 Corinthians 15. He appeared to Cephas (another name for Simon Peter), to the twelve apostles, to Paul himself, and even to 500 people all at the same time. This couldn’t possibly just be an hallucination or wishful thinking from deluded minds. Paul even says many of these witnesses were still alive as he was writing, so they could be interrogated and asked about it, and their reliability as witnesses assessed.
The truth was out there — and he had been seen and touched and heard by hundreds of people. If that was not true, the early Christian movement would have died out pretty quickly, like ever other Messianic movement of that century. The logic of history suggests that the best explanation for why billions of people have since believed in the resurrection, is that it is — amazingly — true.
Jesus said, before his death, that “the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He did not have to die, but he expressed his power not by calling for twelve legions of angels to come and rescue him and show the Romans who was boss — but by voluntarily giving up his life.
He could do this because he had a cast iron promise from his Father that he also had authority and power to take up his life again afterwards. This is what they together decided even before he took flesh and was born. The resurrection proves that Jesus really was who he said he was all along: God’s powerful Son. He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
Finally, the resurrection is a pledge to us of our own resurrection from the dead one day. By Jesus’s power we too are raised up to a new life when we believe and trust in him. Our faith unites us to him, joins us to him in an inseparable bond, so his resurrection assures us that death is not the end for us either. The gates of death cannot defeat Jesus or his people.
Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18) and “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). When he rose again he wasn’t just resuscitated, to die again another day (Romans 6:9). He entered and began a whole new world. That’s why it happened “on the third day” — Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The Sabbath (Saturday) was the seventh day, so Sunday is the first day of the new week — and a new world.
Questions for reflection:
1. Why is important to affirm that Jesus truly rose again bodily?
2. What does Jesus’s resurrection tell us about our own future beyond death?
3. What are we saying by meeting together on Sunday (the Lord’s Day, Revelation 1:10)?
Prayer: Almighty God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you have conquered death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: captivate our minds with the glories of the world to come, that our hearts may turn away from the fading pleasures of this world and be fixed on the risen Christ, in whose powerful name we pray. Amen.