Resurrection: The Glory of the Risen King
No one on earth saw the Lord Jesus Christ rise from the dead. The four Gospels do not give us any eye-witness account. What they report is the empty grave and Christ’s appearances as the risen Lord. Their sober and simple account is sufficient and rich in its contents and message. In this article we will pay special attention to the great earthquake, the angels, and the Lord’s appearing to his own.
God the Father and the earthquake
Early on the Sunday morning after the Lord’s death, suddenly the earth quaked violently. It was the second time in three days. The first occurred on Friday, at the Lord’s death. Then God tore the curtain of the temple from top to bottom. This first shaking of the earth split the rocks and broke open the tombs for the risen saints (Matt 27:51- 53). Obviously, this first earthquake was an act of God, showing the glorious victory of the atoning death of Christ Jesus for God’s people.
This new powerful shaking of the earth at the Lord’s resurrection was caused by God’s mighty hand again. Matthew tells us, “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.” God honoured his incarnate Son by sending the angel and shaking the earth again. He said at the cross, “It is finished.” Now the Father says, yes, the atoning work is finished. I raise you from the dead, and hereby I vindicate you. You are the victorious righteous Servant of the LORD, about whom Isaiah prophesied.
This is the first reason to rejoice on Easter. We have a righteous living King, vindicated, declared righteous, in Spirit, that is, in his new spiritual, risen existence (1Tim 3:16). It means that his people are declared righteous with Him (Rom 4:25). “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). When a good king is honoured, his people rejoice, for their king’s victory is for them. So it is here. It was D-Day. Now the V-Day is sure too.
Easter means great joy also in today’s situation. Deceitful, murderous, evil powers make themselves strong, tyrannizing many. We see the great wickedness in the Middle East where weapons of mass destruction are made to establish human empires of devilish might at the cost of oppressed subjects. Such wickedness is not less present in the West with its decadent immoral culture of violence and sex, ruled by an insatiable lust for unrighteous Mammon1. The devil seems to rule in the East, as well as in the West. But he knows that his time is short. For Christ Jesus rose from the dead and is the living King at God’s right hand. He governs this earth, allowing sinners to make the measure of sin full for the final judgement on God’s great Day, the Day for the final deliverance of God’s creation and God’s people.
The angel rolling the stone away and sitting on it
The angel honoured the risen Lord by rolling the stone away. Not that the Lord needed the angel to do that. He could have come out of the tomb on his own. Now He no longer had an earthly body. The one moment He was not in the midst of the disciples, and the next He was; and then again He was just gone. Nothing could hold Him anymore. When the apostle John later entered the tomb, he saw the linen clothes lying there as they had been wrapped around the Lord’s body, now an empty cocoon. Like the clothes, also the tomb could not hold Him. The one moment He was still in the tomb, the next moment, having come to life, He was outside with his new spiritual glorious body. No, the angel did not have to roll the stone away for Him.
Why then did he remove this stone and “sat on it”? So that the angel could wait for the women to tell them the gospel of the Lord’s resurrection with, as proof, the empty grave. “Do not be afraid!” he said. “For I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” The place was empty. They had to go quickly to the disciples with the good news In other words, the service of the angel for the Lord is to serve the women and the disciples, the first fruits of his church. As Heb 1:14 says, angels are “ministering spirits, sent to serve those who are to inherit salvation.”
Again, there is a comforting and strengthening encouragement for the church today in a world that threatens to be put upside down in intense turmoil. Angels are sent out by the living Lord to take care of the believers, those who are to inherit salvation. Against the raging of the enemies they are safe in the hands of their living Lord. He leads them to perfection. Also the measure of faith is to become full.
The women and the disciples worshipping
The women hurried away, glad. And, suddenly, the Lord Himself, the Shepherd of the sheep, was there to meet them (Matt 28:9). They fell down, clasped his feet, and worshipped Him, their Lord and their God, overjoyed. With this worshipping Him in faith, they now also honoured Him, the first fruits of his church. In fact, the Lord Himself worked this honouring. Those for whom He first died, He led to a renewed and completed faith.
This faithful loving care for his church is promised for the church of all times, also today. It calls us to trust in Him in thankful joy of faith. It calls us to worship and serve Him from day to day with our entire life, abiding by his word, going with Him to his great Day, being sanctified2 through his Holy Spirit, in the midst of evil. Justified by His death, sanctified by His living, His holy people go with Him to his glory.
Excerpt from Clarion, THE CANADIAN REFORMED MAGAZINE Volume 52, No. 9, pg. 208, April 25, 2003
Prof. J. Geertsema is Professor emeritus of New Testament of the Theological College of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches in Hamilton, Ontario
2sanctified – In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose. To sanctify means “to make holy.”
3Justified – justification is an act of God’s grace: A guilty sinner places his or her faith in Christ and is acquitted by God. A wrongdoer is “made right” with God.