On January 13 (blog post: Islam 11), we considered the death of Jesus on the cross, explaining why only he is qualified to be the Mediator and substitute for his people. On February 2 (blog post: Islam 12: Christianity Quiz), we reviewed the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and sin and salvation.
Christianity would not be good news if Jesus had remained in the tomb. A dead Lord Jesus is neither Lord (for a Lord rules) nor Savior (remember: Jesus means Savior, and a dead Jesus cannot save). The Qur’an is somewhat ambivalent on the subject of the resurrection of Christ, for in the Qur’an the infant Jesus speaks from the cradle in defense of his mother:
“I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; and He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; so Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life (again)!” (Surah 19:30-33).
Elsewhere, Allah makes this promise to Jesus: “O Jesus! I will take thee and raise thee to Myself and clear thee (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow thee superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: then shall ye all return to me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein ye dispute” (Surah 3:55).
Most Muslims, however, deny that Jesus died, and therefore they also deny that he rose from the dead. (The day of resurrection in Surah 3:55 probably refers to the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world, a belief shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, although obviously they do not agree on every aspect of that doctrine).
The Bible teaches emphatically and clearly that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, in witnessing to a Muslim we must not end with the cross. The four gospel writers agree that Jesus rose from the dead, and although (without contradiction) they vary in the details, they teach the same basic truth.
First, Jesus rose from the dead in the body. At the point of Jesus’ death on the cross, his soul was separated from his body, which is the experience of all who undergo physical death (although Jesus is the only one who had the power [authority] to lay down his own life): “And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost” (Mark 15:37); “And having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46); “And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).
Jesus’ soul departed from his body and went to be with his Father in paradise: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” cried Jesus (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ body hung lifeless on the cross, and to prove that Jesus was really dead, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Later, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus buried the lifeless body of Jesus in a tomb.
But Jesus’ death (with the separation of his body and soul) did not bring about the end of the incarnation. The human and divine natures in the one person of the Son of God were not separated. There was no severing of the hypostatic union. The Belgic Confession explains:
And though he hath by his resurrection given immortality to the same, nevertheless he hath not changed the reality of his human nature; forasmuch as our salvation and resurrection also depend on the reality of his body. But these two natures are so closely united in one person, that they were not separated even by his death. Therefore that which he, when dying, commended into the hands of his Father, was a real human spirit, departing from his body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human, even when he lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in him, any more than it did when he was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.
While the dead body of Jesus lay in the tomb, it was still united to the person of Jesus, whose divine person was also still united to his human soul! (Although his human soul and body were separated, and are finite, his divine person is infinite and omnipresent). Nothing can separate the human and divine in Jesus—not even death!
On the third day, when Jesus rose from the dead, he did not rise as a disembodied spirit. At the point of his resurrection, his body and soul were reunited, and he rose in the body. His body was glorified as a real human body. We see that in his post-resurrection appearances in which, for example, he ate food and permitted his disciples to touch him: “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have…And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them” (Luke 24:39, 42-43).
Second, Jesus’ resurrection was attested by many witnesses. These witnesses are significant because none of them expected him to rise from the dead. The women who came to anoint his body on the first day of the week expected to find a dead body. Mary Magdalene in particular was devastated not to find Jesus’ body: “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him” (John 20:2). The initial reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ resurrection was fear and even unbelief. Especially Thomas would not be convinced until he saw Jesus: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). On seeing Jesus, Thomas’ response was worship: “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Not only did these same men boldly proclaim Christ’s resurrection, but they were so convinced about it that they were willing to die for the truth of it! The disciples were neither gullible fools nor deliberate deceivers. They knew that Jesus had risen because they were eyewitnesses of his resurrection!
Third, there are “many infallible proofs” of the resurrection. Apart from the compelling eyewitness accounts, we mention two: the empty tomb and the position of the grave clothes. Incontrovertible is the truth that on the third day, against all the expectations of his friends and enemies alike, the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. In addition, the grave clothes in which Jesus had been wrapped were lying in the tomb intact. Grave robbers could not have left the grave clothes behind so neatly, and grave robbers do not unwrap bodies before they carry them away. Besides, no one had the motive, means or opportunity to steal the body, which was guarded by armed soldiers on the orders of the Roman governor!
Fourth, the resurrection is significant both for Jesus and for his people.
The resurrection was vindication and glory for Jesus. He had been condemned, but God, in raising him from the dead, attested that he is the Son of God. “[He was] declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:4).
The resurrection proves that Jesus has conquered death. If Jesus had remained dead, we would have to conclude that death had permanently conquered him. And if that were the case, we would have no hope, for if Jesus could not conquer death for himself, neither can he conquer it for us.
The resurrection of Jesus is the way of eternal life for God’s people. Jesus died for sin, bearing in his body and soul the punishment due to the sins of his people. If Jesus did not rise, we can only conclude that he failed to satisfy the justice of God. Therefore, we are still in our sins. Paul writes,
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. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (I Corinthians 15:17-20).
Finally, because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the confidence that our bodies will also one day rise from the dead. That is the hope that a Christian has at the funeral of a believing loved one, a hope of which the unbeliever is altogether devoid.
That is the Christian gospel—the Son of God became a man; the Son of God was made under the law whose curse he suffered when he died on the cross; the Son of God was buried; and the Son of God rose again from the dead, triumphant over death!
The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Romans 10:8-11).
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.