Acts 2:24-32 “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.
Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”
Christians and the Christian faith came immediately under attack, very early on, at the Feast of Pentecost around the year 30. Fifty days earlier Jesus Christ had been crucified and on the third day was risen from the dead. Now at the feast of Pentecost God has poured out his Spirit on every single believer, filling each of them without exception. When they speak in a great variety of foreign languages that they weren’t familiar with before that day then their enemies accuse them of drunken babbling. So Peter stands, calls for their attention, a great hush would have fallen over the audience and he preached to them the first new covenant sermon. His first defence of their conduct was that this event (in which they’d been caught up) was what the prophet Joel spoke of when he said that in the latter days, the days of the coming of the Messiah, God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. They were on the spot when a prophecy of God was being fulfilled. Joel had announced that men and women would prophesy and preach the word, and this is exactly what they were seeing.
His second explanation of that never-to-be-forgotten day was that God has raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. It was impossible for death to keep God’s Son under its power. Jehovah alone was the one could open the jaws of death and could resurrect Jesus of Nazareth whom they had crucified. Thus it was this living Lord Christ who was the one responsible for the three great signs of Pentecost, the rushing mighty wind, the tongues of fire that rested on each of them and the gift of preaching the mighty works of God by people who had no previous knowledge of the languages in which they were bearing witness. Peter then turns to the Bible once again and he quotes from Psalm 16 verses 8 through11 as the proof passage that God had promised that he would not allow his Son to lie rotting in the grave.
WHAT DID THIS VAST CONGREGATION OF GOD-FEARING JEWS KNOW ABOUT RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD?
What did they think when they heard Peter speaking of the resurrection of the dead? We know that later in Athens the people mocked Paul when he mentioned the resurrection of the body. These devout Jews certainly were convinced that people are not annihilated at death. Enoch walked with God, and then he was not – because of annihilation? No. God took him to himself. Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot and horses. Job affirmed that he knew that his Redeemer lived and that though worms should destroy his body yet in his flesh he’d see God. In the last chapter of Daniel the prophet says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). So life after death and even the hope of resurrection was widespread among the God-fearing congregation. Nevertheless Peter didn’t quote what the Scriptures said about the hope of resurrection.
Or again, there were certainly actual examples of the resurrection of men and women in the Scriptures. After the son of the widow of Zarephath had died, Elijah prayed to God, “and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:22). A few years later, the prophet Elisha raised the dead son of a Shunammite (2 Kings 4:32-35). Then, after Elisha’s death, a dead man, in the process of being buried in the tomb of Elisha, was restored to life after touching Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:20-21). Elijah especially was revered as the greatest of the prophets by these thousands of God-fearing Jews in Jerusalem listening to Peter. They would have known of these accounts of resurrections, nevertheless Peter did not mention them.
Or again, the country had buzzed with the mighty acts of the Lord Christ. There were stories circulating at every well and city gate that Jesus of Nazareth was reported to have raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 8:21-24,35-43), as well as the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-16), and Lazarus, who had been buried for four days (John 11:1-45). Many knew this family the brother and his two sisters, and some in this vast Jerusalem congregation might well have spoken to the risen Lazarus of Jesus delivering him from death, nevertheless Peter did not refer to this fact. Then there was a very curious incident that took place after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Matthew recorded how “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (27:52-53). Many listening to Peter had seen these godly people risen from the dead. Perhaps some of them were actually there at the feast that day. Nevertheless Peter made no reference to them. So I can answer my question and tell you that this vast congregation listening to Peter on the Day of Pentecost knew much of the resurrection from the dead both from the teaching of Scripture, the examples in Scripture, their own experience of seeing and hearing about the people Jesus raised from the dead, and the resurrections that accompanied Jesus own resurrection, none of which was mentioned by Peter.
2. SO WHAT DOES PETER SAY CONCERNING THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS?
Peter affirms very positively, “But God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (v.24). Here was the totally adequate explanation for his resurrection. God did it. Do you think it a strange thing that God should raise the dead? God could allow death to keep its grip on Jesus for ever and ever. Or if God determined otherwise he could raise Jesus up and he would rise. So Peter declared those six words, “God raised Jesus from the dead,” and then do you see what Peter did? He immediately appealed to the Scriptures as his reason for believing and preaching this fact. It was prophesied in the Bible. So he quotes Psalm 16 and verses 8 through 11, written by King David. Verse 25 begins, “David said about him . . .” Your great King spoke of the Jesus you have just crucified. So Peter picks up this prophecy of the Old Testament, and he quotes it. “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
You notice that Psalm 16 is a Messianic psalm, but it is not only speaking about Christ, it is Christ himself who is its author. The ‘I’ of verse 25 is actually the Lord Jesus who always did everything that pleased God, so that his Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He is the one who saw the Lord always before him. God was always at his right hand. He was not shaken by attacks of Satan or the opposition of his own fellow countrymen. Always he rejoiced in the Spirit; Jesus’ heart was glad, and as death drew near he filled his mind with the joy that was set before him. “My body also will live in hope” he said in this psalm. It was inconceivable to him that he the God-man, the incarnate Son of God, should as to his body, rot and be devoured by worms. He would not be abandoned in the grave. God would be with him there. He was precious and loved in life and he would be precious and loved in death too. Every speck of the dust of the saints is precious to God, and this especially so of the body of his beloved Son. The psalm was speaking of Peter’s Saviour, Master and friend, the Lord Jesus.
And now Peter is growing in authority and he really lays this passage on them. “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (vv. 28-32). Peter appeals to them that this psalm was not speaking of David and his resurrection, because that king was dead and he is buried, and his grave was with them even to this day. If you opened the grave you would find his dust. This Scripture can’t refer to David. So David was speaking of someone else, that God would raise up great David’s greater Son to sit on his throne. In other words, the King was speaking of the One who would be from his loins, the Messiah. What does he call him in verse 27? “nor will you let your Holy One see decay” David knew that that couldn’t be a reference to him. Everyone knew the Holy One was Messiah, even the demons knew that. In Mark 1:24, the demons cried out and said, “Are you come to destroy us? I know you who you are – the Holy One of God.” The demons themselves knew that that was a Messianic title.
So Psalm 16 predicts the resurrection of the Messiah from the dead. Now, when the Bible makes a prediction and the prophesy doesn’t come to pass, then the Bible is showing that it is erroneous and untrustworthy. In other words, the truthfulness of the Word of God is dependent on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that when he came out of the grave on the third day, the prophecy of Psalm 16 was vindicated and verified. It was proven to be true, and that stands as evidence for the veracity of the Scriptures. It always interested me that Christ was in the grave three days, and that the Jewish tradition was that decay began the fourth day. So even that tradition was accommodated by the resurrection.
So this is how all the apostles, filled with the Spirit of truth, understood the prophecy of Psalm 16. Not only Peter at Pentecost. We can turn to another passage in the book of Acts, where this psalm and its prophecy about the resurrection of Christ is quoted, chapter 13 and verse 30. But it is not Peter this time who is quoting it, but Paul, and Paul is here speaking of the resurrection. He says what Peter said in that 30th verse, “God raised him from the dead,” and then Paul goes on, “and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ So it is stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’ For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay” (vv. 31-37). See that in four verses in Acts 13 Paul repeats the fact of the resurrection, in verses 30,33, 34 and 37.
But Paul also quoted Isaiah 55 and verse 3, concerning the sure blessings – the sure mercies of David – raised from the dead, no longer to return to corruption. David was dust and to dust he returned and his grave and his dust are there to this day, but there is no dust of Jesus, no grave where his bones lie. He rose on the third day. Isaiah spoke in this way, that God “will give you the holy and sure blessings of David,” or as we know it more familiarly, “the sure mercies of David.” How can he give David the promised mercy of David? How can he give him the Kingdom if David’s body lies a moldering in the grave? It can’t be to David, so the promise of Isaiah 55 and verse 3 concerning the sure mercies of David is a promise of resurrection. For Isaiah 53 speaks of his death and Isaiah 55 of his inheritance, and, therefore, between his death and his inheritance, there has to be a resurrection.
3. WHAT DOES THE RESURRECTION PROVE?
i] The resurrection proves the deity of the Son of God. Of course the Jews listening to Peter saw that immediately. “We killed him. We got rid of him, but God is his Father and he raised him from the dead.” What greater proof is there for the divine nature of Jesus Christ than His rising from the grave? There are many witnesses in the Bible to the deity of Christ – many, many of them. The demons in Mark 5 say, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” The demon in Mark 1, “We know you, the Holy One of God.” Even the demons affirmed his deity. A man born blind in John 9, who was given sight, affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ when he gave his testimony to the unconvinced Jews with their hard hearts. The disciples – Peter, James, John – all acknowledge the deity of Christ. Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Nathaniel, “Thou art the Son of God.” Matthew, “He is God with us.” Mark, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Luke, “He is the Son of God.” And His close friends, people like Martha, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,” she said. John the Baptist, a relative, and how bluntly we can speak of our relations, and yet John said, “I saw and bear record that this is the Son of God.” Even a Roman soldier said, “Truly this Man is the Son of God.”
But, unquestionably, the greatest testimony to the fact of his deity came from the mouth of the Father who said, “This is My beloved Son.” God confirmed that by raising him from the dead. He’s hardly have raised a crook and a liar and a blasphemer. That is why Romans 1 is so important. It says in verse 3, “Jesus Christ our Lord was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” And listen to this, “Declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” In other words, the resurrection of Christ from the dead was a monumental declaration from the Creator of this universe of the Sonship of Christ. God declared his deity by his resurrection. God raised him from the dead as an affirmation that he was the second member of the Trinity. The resurrection was the declaration of his deity. Peter concludes his great sermon at Pentecost by declaring to them in verse 36, “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
The Bible tells us that Jesus came as a prophet, and that prophetic ministry was authenticated by the resurrection. Why would we believe his words to be one with God and the judge of all the world if he died and rotted like any other man and never came from the grave, when he had promised numbers of times to rise on the third day? We wouldn’t trust his Word. If his Word couldn’t be trusted in that provable promise, “I shall rise on the third day,” then how do we know it could be trusted anywhere else?
Take his priestly office. The Bible says he came as a priest, and that as a priest, he is to intercede before God on the behalf of men; but if he is dead, how can he be a priest forever, as it says in Hebrews? How can he ever live to make intercession for us? He cannot fulfill a prophetic office, because he cannot authenticate his Word. He cannot fulfill a priestly office, because he isn’t around to intercede, and the Bible also says he has the office of a king; and how can he exercise omnipotent power if he’s dead? How can he inherit a throne if he’s not here to take a throne? The kingship of Christ, the priesthood of Christ, the prophetic office of Christ – they are all utterly dependent upon his resurrection; and his eternal deity is bound up in the fact that he rose from the grave. So the resurrection proved the deity of Christ, and the people hearing Peter could perceive that. Only God can conquer death.
ii] The resurrection proves the completion of the salvation of God. The Bible tells us that God designs to save sinners, that Christ came into the world, he claimed, to seek and to save that which was lost. Over and over he told them he was going to a cross, because sin demanded judgment, and he would die that judicial death and pay that price in our place. We were too poor to pay it but in him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He’d be the Lamb of God. He’d save men from their sins; but if he had gone to the cross and died, and then stayed dead, he’d have been Jesus Christ Superstar, nothing more. His death would have been the death of a good man but nothing more. The death of Christ would have been a nice try, another great failure of a reformer, with no efficacy.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. We are yet in our sins, and we are of all men most miserable.” There is no hope, none at all; but Christ did rise, and rising he proved that he had completed salvation. He had paid the price. He had conquered the enemy, which is sin. He had broken those tight bands of steel that death puts around all at the end, and he was free. And then when God lifted him to his right hand and exalted him, God accepted his death. God confirmed his substitution. God said, “The debt is cleared. I am reconciled to my elect. His blood is efficacious. It is of high value. He is to be exalted to my right hand for having utterly accomplished the task.” And so in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you have the obvious picture that sin and death was destroyed, and the obvious consummation that the Father was pleased. Jesus was raised to assure us that his sacrifice did work, and the Father exalted him to show us the extent to which it worked. It was efficacious, so that he could be exalted to the very right hand of God.
iii] The resurrection enables the Holy Spirit to be poured out. In John 14 and in John 15 we hear the Lord saying, “When I return to heaven, I will send the Holy Spirit. I will do this,” and it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that Peter could stand up and preach with power. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that they could be real believers and become a body, for men are born of the Spirit. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that men could be filled with his power and gifted to do things for him in the church. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit came that Jerusalem sinners were cut to the heart and convicted of sin and righteousness and judgment and cried out, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” The work of the Spirit is essential to salvation. If Christ doesn’t rise, he doesn’t ascend; and if he doesn’t ascend, he doesn’t send the Spirit of illumination and regeneration among men.
iv] The resurrection achieves the forgiveness of our sins. The apostle John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is our advocate in regard to our sin.” And if our Lord didn’t rise, he isn’t speaking a word for us. He isn’t interceding for us, and there is no intercession on our behalf; and, therefore, there can be no forgiving of sin. If he’s not our mediator with God, then we have nobody on our side in the presence of the Father. We face alone the consuming fire. But his work of advocacy takes care of our sin. His work of intercession takes care of Gods perfecting glorifying work in our lives. The Bible says, “He ever lives to make intercession for us.” I believe he seeks the Father’s best for us, and he can’t do that if he’s not alive. So if he’s not alive, there’s no salvation. It was all a sweet dream. There’s no eternal life. There’s no Holy Spirit. There’s no forgiveness. There’s no one at the right hand of God. It’s an empty place and we are bereft. We’re impotent, and we don’t have a place. We are told that God has raised us up together with Christ to sit in the heavenlies. If there’s no resurrection, we’re not there. You see, nothing happens apart from the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; but where there’s a resurrection, then salvation is complete. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of the Christian faith. It means the truthfulness of the Word of God. It means the deity of the Son of God. It means the completion of the salvation of God.
v] The resurrection achieves the establishing of the church of God. It was the resurrection that made a group of fearful men hiding behind locked doors, or walking back home to pick up the pieces of their lives without Christ, alive and united. The resurrection baptized them into a body. The resurrection called them out – the ecclesia means the ‘called out ones.’ The church isn’t an earthly organization. It isn’t a human club. It isn’t recreational devotional exercise that people who like that sort of thing engage in. The church is the body of Christ, who is its head. Our Lord said in Matthew 16, ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” That is a very specific statement. “I’ll build my church, and even hell won’t prevent that happening.”
If Christ had not risen, that never would have happened; because God’s chosen people, the body of Christ, had its birthday at Pentecost when the Spirit came. Without the resurrection this other comforter would never have come. There would have been no regathering of 120 on the day of Pentecost. They’d have scattered and withered away. There’d have been no church. There would have been no filling Jerusalem with resurrection truth. There would have been no turning the world upside down. You wouldn’t be here and neither would I, for this cult of a would-be Messiah Jesus would long ago have died out with so many like it.
But because he did arise, he became, a living stone, and he became the head of his church. In Ephesians 1, Paul says, that “God raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenlies, far above all principality and power and might and dominion in every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come, and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body.” In other words, the body of Christ came alive at the resurrection. Christians were transformed from scattered, fearful, faithless doubters and cowards into world-changing apostles. They would die for their profession that Jesus Christ was alive. “We are witnesses of these things,” they kept saying. The little band of followers grew to fill Jerusalem. They grew by the thousands immediately, and their doctrine covered this city, and soon it turned the world upside down.
These God-fearing Jews who had met for centuries on Saturdays, instantly began to meet on Sundays. Something had happened of a monumental consequence in history, and the church has since marched through time, triumphant in the power of the risen Christ. The church lives today despite its constantly being attacked, and corrupted, and counterfeited. It has fought off false teachers, false doctrine, false representation. It has fought off sin and worldliness, and it is still alive, and it is still changing the world. The reason is because the resurrection power of the living Christ, present where only 2 or 3 meet in his name, sustains the church. Because he lives, his church lives, and it still lives now.
I mean what regathered the scattered sheep? What transformed them? What took a little sect of followers of Jesus and made it a worldwide reality that has done more to preserve truth, justice, and benevolence in human history than everything else put together? What did it? One event. The resurrection, and it accomplishes, men and women, the establishment of the church of God. No resurrection, then no church; but there was a resurrection, and there is a church. Death couldn’t hold him. The hymn writer said, “Death cannot keep its prey. Jesus my Saviour. He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph for His foes. He arose a victor o’er the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign.” Yes, we his saints live with him, because he arose, and this is not a human institution. This is not a man-made organization. This is a living church, and Christ is the head. We are not full of wine but are full of the Holy Spirit.
The resurrection was a guarantee that everyone in Jerusalem would face the very Christ they’d crucified; and that’s why those people in Acts 2 were so shocked, and why a sword went into their hearts, because they knew they were going to stand before the Father of the one they’d killed, and his Son whom they’d nailed to a cross and made fun of in his pain. The resurrection proves the inevitability of judgment from God. What a solemn truth. If you don’t come to the cross of Christ to take the redemption offered to you by Jesus Christ, then someday you will face him, and you won’t be rendering a verdict on him. He’ll be rendering a verdict on you, with infinite and eternal consequence. The resurrection guarantees that every man will be raised to face Jesus Christ; and if you do not know him and love him, you will be condemned to an eternal hell without him.
11th January 2015 GEOFF THOMAS