“Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8). This was Pauls question to Agrippa as he stood a prisoner before the king. To the Apostle of the Gentiles the resurrection was no merely peripheral doctrine which could easily be disregarded as nothing more than a matter of opinion. Indeed Paul could not disregard any doctrine as a mere matter of opinion; all scriptural doctrines were given by inspiration of God and were profitable for instruction. But he saw the doctrine of the resurrection as absolutely central to the whole system of revealed truth which he had received from heaven; there was nothing unreasonable about it. Today the question needs to be asked again very pointedly to professional theologians especially “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?”
Paul could not disregard the doctrine; he knew that it was the plain truth. Had he not met the risen Christ on the way to Damascus? Yet Paul was no lone witness to this wonderful truth. Writing to the Corinthians, he went over the evidence for the resurrection of Christ: “He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:5-7). Even at that time, up to 30 years after the resurrection, any serious objector could have found more than sufficient eyewitnesses, both men and women who could without hesitation swear to the fact that they had seen Christ alive during those 40 days and 40 nights before He was received again into heaven, the very One who had been put to death at Calvary.
But nothing could be incredible for Paul if it had been revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures. He told the Corinthians, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried” (1 Cor 15:3f). Immediately He continued: “And that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4). For Paul, if the Scriptures had spoken, God had spoken. That was enough for him. What was revealed there was perfectly credible. So it should be for us also all these centuries later. The resurrection of Christ is indeed a well-established fact, supported by a multitude of witnesses. It is the subject not only of New Testament testimony, but also of Old Testament prophecy”.
Thus Paul, referring to Psalm 16, told his hearers in Antioch: “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption” (Acts 13:29-37). The Apostle, who could interpret Scripture infallibly, saw that these verses in Psalm 16 did not refer to David; they pointed forward to Christ. Christ must indeed rise from the dead.
What was convincing for an inspired apostle should be equally convincing for us. The doctrine of the resurrection should be no more incredible for us than for him. It lay at the very foundation of his preaching. No sooner had he proclaimed the death and resurrection of Christ in the synagogue in Antioch than he went on, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38f).
The fact of the resurrection was an absolute assurance that Christs work of redemption had been accepted by the Father. Christ had come into the world as the sin-bearer. The guilt of many was laid upon Him, guilt which brought Him to “the dust of death”. But, by the moment when He breathed out His soul into the hand of the Father, He had endured all the punishment which that guilt demanded. He, as the sinners substitute, had borne away the guilt of all His people. He offered a sacrifice which was well-pleasing to God. So “by His own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb 9:12).
Christ could not continue under the power of death. As Peter expressed it on the Day of Pentecost, referring also to Psalm 16, “It was not possible that He should be holden of” death (Acts 2:24). He had power to lay down His life, and He had done so. It was now the appointed time for Him to exercise His power to take His life again (see John 10:18). So on the third day Christ rose from the grave.
The resurrection is evidence to all who read the Bible that the work of Christ was accepted in heaven as a full satisfaction to divine justice. His saving work is therefore a sure foundation for the salvation of sinners. No hearer of the gospel has any right to deny the efficacy of this work. Accordingly those who follow Paul as ambassadors for Christ are to tell their hearers with all possible emphasis, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The resurrection is the sinners assurance that this is an effective salvation, one which is absolutely suitable for sinners of every kind. Paul had no doubt about the seriousness of his own sins, but equally he had no doubt that this salvation was perfectly suited to him in all his desperate need as a sinner. That was why he could write with such assurance: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim 1:15).
Those who believe in Christ are freed from every charge that may be brought against them under the law of God. Christ was their substitute; He stood in their place and bore the full punishment which was due to them. And the resurrection bears testimony to every believer, that when Christ went down to the dust of death bearing their guilt, He dealt effectively with it. No charge which might justly have been laid against them can ever be revived; all their guilt was carried away by the One on whom the eye of faith is to be fixed.
The resurrection of Christ is also closely connected with the resurrection of all mankind at the end of the world. So Paul asked, “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12). Thus to deny the resurrection of the dead is to make the gospel totally worthless; it is to leave us completely without hope in this sad and sinful world. Says Paul: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor 15:14-19).
To deny a future resurrection is no trivial aberration; it strikes at the heart of Christianity. To deny it is to deny the resurrection of Christ. And this is to deny the efficacy of His saving work. To deny the literal, physical resurrection of Christ leaves us with no hope. But no one in contact with the gospel need be hopeless, even in a world so full of sin and sadness. Christ calls, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat 11:28). And we can be certain that this call rests on a solid foundation because Christs resurrection assures us that redemption was indeed accomplished; a complete salvation has been provided for all who come to Christ for all who believe in Him.
Even in the face of death, the believer ought to be hopeful. The effects of death will not last for ever; the resurrection will follow in due time. Christs resurrection assures us of that, for “now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Cor 15:20). “His resurrection”, says Robert Haldane, “is a sure pledge that they who sleep in Jesus, God at His second appearance will bring with Him. As He triumphed in His resurrection over all His enemies, so His people shall arise to victory and blessedness. Then they shall know the power of the resurrection of Jesus, the grandeur of that event, and their interest in it through eternity.”
The resurrection is incredible only to those who will not submit to the testimony of God to those who refuse to believe in divine omnipotence. It is incredible only to those who are firmly wedded to naturalistic presuppositions presuppositions which are altogether unreasonable. To believe that the world came into existence without a creator is unreasonable. It is indeed a fallen world, a world that threw off the authority of the Creator. Yet, in His great mercy, the Creator has provided deliverance for fallen man. And He has revealed that deliverance to us in the Scriptures.
All who come to Christ will receive the forgiveness of sin and the reversal, in due time, of all sins consequences. At death, their souls will be made perfectly holy and they will enter into the joy of their Lord. But their bodies, separate from their souls, are left in the grave to return to dust yet not for ever. For believers, death is not the end. They will experience a resurrection unto life. On the last day, Christ will appear, to bring them, soul and body reunited, into everlasting blessedness, into that final state where “there shall be no more curse” (Rev 22:3).
The Church has no right to weaken her testimony to this great doctrine. She must continue to proclaim it with the utmost confidence, for it is absolute truth. She must point to the utter unreasonableness of all opposing teachings. With complete confidence, she must ask the unbelieving world, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?” Submission to Gods revelation is the only reasonable attitude.