Bible Study: Three Minute Message
"Resurrection" by Dr. J.W. Bernard
A few years back, I wrote an article in The Examiner about Hymenaeus and Philetus overthrowing the faith of some Christians in the Church (2nd Timothy 2:17,18). I explained that the only way these two men could cause such a stir was in the fact that the early church understood the resurrection to be spiritual, not with physical bodies flying and singing as they rise to meet the Lord in the air. These two men had falsely reported that the resurrection had already occurred. If the young church had understood that the resurrection was to be a physical event (as some believe today), they would not have been fooled, for they would have been eyewitnesses to the physical phenomenon. However, since this resurrection for Christians was to be spiritual, these two men could trick believers into accepting the false premise that a spiritual resurrection had already occurred. I went on to say that Jesus Christ was the only one who came out of the tomb as immortal.
After my article was published and sent out to thousands. Many questions came in response to the article. One question was, "What about Matthew 27:51-53?"
"And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Matthew 27:51-53).
These verses certainly do say in the English that physical "bodies of the saints" arose (like Lazarus) and in a special way and "came out of the graves" to go into Jerusalem to show themselves to many skeptics that needed a sign of some kind. However, when this physical event happened, the Lord was still upon the cross.
The Centurion that stood by the cross and watched Jesus, saw this happen and said, "Truly this was the Son of God." You see, the graves were down the hill from the cross, visible to the Centurion. He saw the graves open and after they awakened from death, they went into the city of Jerusalem and were seen by many unbelieving Jews.
Christ raised these people from the dead when He "yielded up the ghost" (51) while He was still on the cross. The Greek should read this way:
"And the tombs were opened and many bodies of saints, having fallen asleep, were raised: and coming forth out of the tombs, after their rising, entered into the holy city appearing to all." (53)
The Greek word, auf-too in Matt. 27:17 is translated "they." In verses 21, 22 and 26 it is translated "them" all three times. In verse 44, it is translated "Thieves." This version, "after His resurrection" should be translated from the Greek, "after their resurrection." The context is about those who were raised and the Greek word, autou (auf-too) is translated in many other places as either "they, "them" or "him." The Greek word should always be translated by the context, not by the desire to prove a point. However, this context demands the translation to be "their resurrection." The Greek noun, egersis behind "resurrection" in this verse (53) occurs only here. It is never associated with the resurrection of Christ. This same Greek word (with a prefix epe in front of it) is found in Acts 13:50 and 14:2. However it is not a resurrection with immortality attached.
The next event is about the Centurion as he and his companions watched "these things," consisting of the earth quake, the torn veil and the dead bodies raised to life.
"And when the Centurion and they that were with him, watching Jesus (on the cross), saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, (the veil of the Temple ripped into; the graves opening up and dead bodies coming to life) they feared greatly, saying, 'Truly this was the Son of God'." (27:54)
These people that were "raised" physically from the dead like Lazarus and many others, also died later like Lazarus and the others. Christ was the first fruit to be resurrected from the dead. His resurrection body was physical and spiritual so that it could be viewed by those who saw Him after the resurrection from the dead. His body must be observed and attested to. For our faith in the death, entombment and resurrection is validated by His resurrection. He accomplished the spiritual in His physical body by dying and coming to life again.
Those people that the Centurion saw being brought back to life while Christ was still upon the cross were not in the "first resurrection." They were "raised" (Gr. egersis) before He was "resurrected" (Gr. anastasis). They were not "the one hundred and forty-four thousand" in the book of Revelation "who came out of the great tribulation." (Rev. 7:14). No reputable theologian has suggested that the tribulation had ended before the cross of Christ. I have visited Jerusalem half a dozen times and the area where their graves were is not large enough for 144,000 bodies to be placed. Their "life from the dead" which was three days before His resurrection did not give them "immortality." For Paul says around A.D. 64 that...
"our Lord Jesus Christ; which in His times He shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen" (1st Timothy 6:14-16).
Paul said that 34 years after the resurrection of Christ, the only one who had immortality and dwelt in the light was Christ. This means that the ones who came out of the graves in their physical bodies did not receive immortality and could not be part of the tribulation saints. Paul told the Corinthians that in their resurrection, the mortal puts on immortality (1st Cor. 15:53). That did not occur for those who were raised at His death in A.D. 30. Therefore, being mortal, they had to die later, even though they were brought forth from the graves for another witness to the saving Power of God.
Old Testament saints slept in the grave. For, before the resurrection of Christ there was no prepared spiritual immortal body for anyone to put on at death. However, after the Parousia the soul no longer sleeps in death. Sleep was applied to all the dead that anticipated the Parousia or arrival of Christ in the first century. After A.D. 70, no one is asleep in the graves. For those who die now, put on the "house which is from heaven" at death. We are now in the Parousia and when we put off the body that came from the ground, we put on the body that comes from heaven. We have our new immortal bodies which are put on at this death and resurrection.
The resurrection has been a permanent battlefield for theologians. Like the early church, one must decide whether there is a future resurrection or that it has already happened. If it has already happened, it would have to be a spiritual one. If it is still future, it can be either spiritual, physical or both. I believe that after the resurrection and parousia at the close of the dispensational age in A.D. 70, everyone in Christ who dies put off the old fleshly body and put on the new spiritual body that God has prepared for them.