Since the first century, the Christian church has commemorated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead by meeting on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). The Sabbath was ordained, as the Old Testament makes abundantly clear, for as long as the old creation lasted. Therefore, nothing would be adequate to shift the day from the seventh to the first short of a new heaven and new earth. And in the resurrection from the dead, this is precisely what we find.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).
As we will see, the apostolic proclamation of the gospel centered in an important way on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is apparent in multiple places, and here on Mars Hill it comes out in a curious way. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, and the philosophers there thought that Paul was preaching strange gods. Note the plural. They thought this because he was preaching about Jesus and about Anastasis. The resurrection featured so strongly in his preaching that they thought Resurrection was one of a pair of gods.
When the disciples replaced Judas, they wanted someone who had been with them since the baptism of John down to the ascension. That apostle’s job was to be witness, together with them, of the resurrection (Acts 1:22). The enemies of the gospel were grieved that the early Christians were preaching the resurrection of the dead through Jesus (Acts 4:2). The orthodox Jews believed in a resurrection of the dead, contra the Sadducees, but the Christians were preaching that this resurrection had surfaced in a strange and unexpected place, through the resurrection of Jesus. This is why Paul was able to divide the Sanhedrin on this question (Acts 23:6, 8). There would be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust and the Jews knew it (Acts 24:15). But there was something they did not know.
A Brief Word About the Third Day:
As we saw in the previous message, Jesus had predicted that He was going to spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40), just as Jonah had spent that time in the fish. This raises a question for the curious—how on earth can you get three days and three nights to fit in between Friday afternoon, and Sunday morning? The brief answer is that you cannot, and despite all the Good Friday services we hold, Jesus did not really die on Friday. The thing that makes some people think He did is that the gospel of Luke tells us that He was crucified on the day of preparation, as the Sabbath drew on (Luke 23:54). But the Jews had more Sabbaths than just the weekly Sabbath. The Scriptures refer to high holy days that are not the weekly Sabbath as Sabbaths (Lev. 16:29-31, 23:24-32, 39), and Jesus was crucified just before the Passover. So there were two Sabbaths that week. After that first Sabbath, the women purchased spices for use on His body (Mark 16:1). The weekly Sabbath was the second Sabbath that week, and Luke 23:56 tells us the women, after they had prepared the spices, rested on the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). How could they buy spices after the Sabbath, and also rest on the Sabbath after they had prepared those spices—unless there were two Sabbaths that week? So, without belaboring the point, I think we should assume that the first day of Passover that year was Thursday. Jesus died Wednesday afternoon, and was laid in the grave around sundown Wednesday night. Thursday night was one day, Friday night the second, and Saturday night the third. For the Jews, the first day of the week would start at sundown our Saturday night, and that is when Jesus rose. So when the women came on our Sunday morning, the grave was already empty.
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” (Acts 17:32).
One of the things that the unbelieving heart loves to do is take certain obvious things for granted, in order to suppress and ignore them, and to do this in order to ridicule the coming glories as incredible. One time I was with Christopher Hitchens on Joy Behar’s show, and they were making merry over the fact that I believe the Bible, meaning that I believed in talking animals—like the serpent in the garden, or Balaam’s donkey. “How can you believe in talking animals?” My response was, “But we’re animals, and we talk.” And nobody knew quite what to do. In short, everybody believes in talking animals.
And what about life from the dead? Everyone believes in that too. The evolutionist believes that inanimate matter one day jumped the chasm and became animate—life from death. And it did this all by itself. And Christians believe that God formed Adam from the dust of the ground. When He breathed the breath of life into him, that inanimate matter became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Everyone believes that life came from death. What our faith in the resurrection means is that we believe it will happen again. But why on earth would anyone declare a miracle an impossibility the second time? “Sure, you walked on water once, but a second time is plainly impossible.”
Inside Out History:
Having no doctrine of creation, a common pagan assumption about history involved it in endless recurring cycles. The Jews had a doctrine of creation, and so they had a linear view of history. It was a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The resurrection from the dead would occur on the last day. Jesus said the general resurrection would happen on the last day (John 6:39-40, 44). Martha expected to see her brother Lazarus at the last day (John 11:24). Unbelievers would be judged by the words of Christ on the last day (John 12:48). And this is all true enough, as far as it went.
But the startling thing that God did was this. By doing this, He transformed the entire nature of human history. He punched a hole in the fabric of history, right in the middle of it. That hole was the tomb of Christ. He reached through that hole, grabbed the last days, and pulled them through the tomb. The resurrection of the last days has begun, and it began in the middle of ordinary time. Christ rose in the middle of history, which means that all our reckoning has to be adjusted accordingly.
Resurrection on the Move:
Everything that was entailed in the resurrection of the last day has been accomplished in Christ. He rose from the dead bodily. His resurrection was the down payment on what will be for the rest of us. “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20–21).
The last day will still see wonderful things—our bodies will be transformed then, just as the Jews expected. But because Christ’s body was transformed in the middle of history, what was pulled after this? Christ’s resurrection pulled our regeneration (our spiritual resurrection from spiritual death), and our regeneration pulls our bodily resurrection after it. “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10).
But of course it is the hand of God that is doing all the pulling.