Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Jesus Christ's Resurrection
(From Forerunner Commentary)

One of "Christianity's" false doctrines that is based upon their flawed reckoning of these events is "the Lord?s Day." Catholic and Protestant churches around the world are full of sincere but deceived people who believe that Christ changed the day of rest from Sabbath to Sunday. How is He supposed to have done that? By His resurrection!

If it were proved that He rose from the grave on the Sabbath, what would happen to the foundation of this doctrine? It would disappear! Their theologians would have only the flimsiest "proof texts" to stand on (I Corinthians 16:1-2; Revelation 1:10)!

Nowhere in the New Testament is the perpetual Sabbath covenant abolished (Exodus 31:12-17), for God made the Sabbath for all mankind (Mark 2:27). To the contrary, Jesus kept it (Luke 4:16), Paul kept it (Acts 17:2), and Gentiles kept it (Acts 13:42-44; 16:13)! The author of Hebrews writes boldly, "There remains therefore a rest [KJV margin: keeping of a Sabbath] for the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9).

So we can see very clearly that the correct dates for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can become vital to our salvation.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

The differing expressions Christ uses help to define "three days" even further. We already know "three days and three nights" refers to a 72-hour period. What about the other phrases? Do they mean the same?

  • Jesus said He would rise "the third day." This narrows that period to no less than 48 hours and no more than 72 hours from His burial.
  • He also said "in three days" He would rise. The outer limit for the duration of His stay "in the heart of the earth" could be no more than 72 hours.
  • Two other times it is said that He would rise "after three days," meaning He must be in the grave at least 72 hours and not a second less!

When we compile all of these factors, we can reach only one definite conclusion: Jesus Christ was in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea exactly 72 hours to the second! If He was resurrected either earlier or later, we have no Savior because the only sign He gave would have failed! He would be a fraud!

But we have assurance that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). What God prophesies comes to pass (Isaiah 46:9-11). In this instance, His Word was fulfilled to the very second!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Few people realize that Jesus Christ fulfilled an Old Testament festival upon being resurrected. This festival, in which a priest waved "a sheaf of the firstfruits of [Israel's] harvest" before the Lord, was held each year on the day after the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:10-11). Thus, a priest would have conducted this wavesheaf ceremony on the day after Christ's resurrection.

During this period, according to the Mishnah, the sheaf to be waved in the ceremony was reaped from the field as the Sabbath ended and Sunday began. "R. Hananiah, Prefect of the Priests, says, 'On the Sabbath it [the barley] was reaped.' . . . On the Sabbath, he [the priest] says to them, '[Shall I reap on] this Sabbath?' They shall say, 'Yes'" (Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation, "Menahoth," p. 753-754). So, at dusk at the end of the Sabbath, the priest "put the sickle to the grain" (Deuteronomy 16:9). When was the sheaf waved? Histories of the time show that it was waved about the same time as the daily morning sacrifice, that is, about 9 AM on Sunday.

The reaping and waving of the sheaf symbolized Israel giving the first and best of the harvest to God and its subsequent acceptance by Him. It is exactly this symbolism that Jesus fulfilled! As the weekly Sabbath was ending, exactly 72 hours from His burial, God resurrected Him from the dead! God "reaped" the first and best of His spiritual harvest (I Corinthians 15:23).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

In I Corinthians 15:3, Paul writes, "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." The resurrected Jesus Himself adds in Revelation 1:18, "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." He introduces the message to the Smyrna church by saying, "These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life" (Revelation 2:8).

Death, according to these scriptures, is a state without awareness. If Jesus was unaware, how could He raise Himself from the dead? It is impossible! He was not even aware that He was dead! If a dead person has no awareness or thought, how can he have the power and control to perform a resurrection?

Furthermore, Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death." When one sins, death is the result. Jesus did not sin (Hebrews 4:15), but "He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness" (I Peter 2:24).

Many more scriptures of this nature could be added, but it is clear that, if Christ did not truly die, the penalty for sin has not been paid, and we have no Savior!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Man and Fully God?

Genesis 8:4

By the civil calendar, the only one in use before Exodus 12, the dates given in Genesis 8:4 bring us to Abib 17. What happened on Abib 17 that might be important? Abib 14 is Passover and on it the Lamb of God was slain. Three days and three nights later near sunset of the seventeenth, He was resurrected! Our salvation, our deliverance from this body of death, our eternal safety, was absolutely demonstrated by Christ's resurrection! Likewise, but of far less importance, the ark coming to rest on that day confirmed that the eight in the ark were safe, and the continuance of mankind through Noah and his family was assured.

John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!

Psalm 23:4

Jesus, bouyed by the hope of the resurrection of the dead, could go through that terrible death, knowing that God would be with Him. He knew that God would forsake Him, but He also knew that He would ultimately raise Him from the dead.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension

Daniel 9:25-27

What is so amazing about the often neglected Seventy Weeks Prophecy is that, not only does it give us a clue to the day of Christ's death, it indicates the year of His death as well! Of course, it is not as simple as looking up a fact in an almanac, but enough information is available to discover the year very accurately.

From what Gabriel says in verse 25, the ending point is fairly plain: the revealing of the Messiah. But what is the starting point?

Historians know of at least four decrees made by the Persian emperors "to restore and build Jerusalem." Cyrus made one in 538 BC, Darius I made one in 520 BC and Artaxerxes I made two, one in 457 BC and one in 444 BC. Which one is the correct command?

All of them could fit the description in verse 25. All of them are concerned with restoring Jerusalem to its former function as the Jewish religious capital and trade center. But only one of them fits the time constraints, and this becomes clear when we work out the puzzle of the seventy weeks.

We have to do a little arithmetic to find the terminus for each of these decrees. The expression "seventy weeks" literally means "seventy sevens," and the year-for-a-day principle applies here (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:4-6). We must multiply seventy weeks times the seven years in a week of years, which equals 490 years. Gabriel, however, says it is only sixty-nine sevens "until Messiah the Prince." Thus, 69 x 7 = 483 years.

If we add 483 years to each of the dates of the decrees, what do we find? (Remember to add one year for crossing the non-existent year 0.)

  • 538 BC + 483 years = 55 BC. No significant biblical event.
  • 520 BC + 483 years = 37 BC. No significant biblical event.
  • 457 BC + 483 years = AD 27. Jesus is baptized and begins His ministry.
  • 444 BC + 483 years = AD 40. No significant biblical event.

God made it easy! We have only one choice!

Verses 26-27 are very specific that the Messiah would work for three and a half years, half of a week, before being "cut off." When we add three and a half years to AD 27, we find that Christ's ministry ended in AD 31, the year of His crucifixion and resurrection.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Matthew 12:38-40

If Jesus rose from His tomb Sunday morning after being interred Friday evening, we have no Savior! Jesus gave only one sign of His Messiahship: " will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Why did the Pharisees ask Him for a sign? The answer appears in the section immediately preceding their request. Jesus had been preaching that "a tree is known by its fruit" (verse 33), so naturally, these Jews asked for a sign from Jesus to prove He was the Messiah! They wanted to see what fruit He would produce!

Jesus swiftly rebuked them because they had completely missed the point (verses 41-42). To satisfy their curiosity, they wanted to see a miracle, but the fruit Jesus meant was repentance, good works, and spiritual growth. He would make them wait to see the fruits of His ministry.

Thus He says, paraphrasing, "The only sign that will absolutely prove the truth of My message is one that I will have no control over. I will be exactly three days and three nights in the grave. I will be dead. I will not be able to resurrect Myself. So if God the Father resurrects Me after exactly three days and three nights, it will be proved beyond doubt that I am the Messiah."

He gave the same sign in other places to different audiences, each time using similar wording. In John 2:19-21, He says, "'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' . . . But He was speaking of the temple of His body."

To His disciples, He says, "The Son of Man is being delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And after He is killed, He will rise the third day" (Mark 9:31; 10:33-34; Matthew 17:22-23; 20:18-19; Luke 9:22).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Matthew 12:38-40

Did the day of Jesus' resurrection cause a change in the day of worship?

The Saturday/Sunday resurrection issue has been a focal point of debate in many circles because of the impact that it could have on the correct day of worship. But to begin here is to begin with an assumption at best, and a conclusion at worst. Where in the Bible is there any indication given that Jesus Christ's death would change the day of worship? Does our God change things on a whim—especially something as foundational as the day on which He meets with His people?

James 1:17 says that in God there is no variation, no shadow of turning. God does not change—His fundamental character and approach to things is constant (Malachi 3:6)! Hebrews 13:8-9 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and immediately after this the author says, "Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines." God's changelessness is a major defense we have against false doctrine! Once He establishes something, is He going to change it out of hand? Could we trust a God that is so undependable and unpredictable?

The high regard that God gives to the seventh-day Sabbath is evident throughout the Old Testament. Time and again, ancient Israel went into captivity because of their sins of Sabbath-breaking and idolatry (e.g., Ezekiel 20). No indication is ever given that the Sabbath is temporary, to be changed, or that God really does not care one way or the other. In fact, the prophecies of the Old Testament show that the Sabbath will be kept after God restores all things by establishing His Kingdom on earth (Isaiah 66:22-23; Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:3).

The gospel writers also do not give any hint or suggestion that the sanctification that God gave to the Sabbath would somehow be switched to the first day of the week. Jesus Christ gives no indication whatever that the day of worship would change upon His death or resurrection. God made only one day each week holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11), and the Bible gives no record of His even thinking about changing it. In addition, He does not give man the authority to "choose" which day each week is holy. Consider how often Jesus and the Pharisees argued over the Sabbath. Yet, not once did they contend over which day should be kept holy; in every instance, the issue was on how to keep the day that had already been firmly established as holy. Not only did Christ keep the Sabbath and teach others on the Sabbath, but after His death the apostles also kept it.

So we have the seventh-day Sabbath strongly established in the Old Testament (and even practiced in Exodus 16 before the proposal of the Old Covenant in Exodus 20). We have the example of Christ's keeping the Sabbath, without any indication that His ministry or His death would change it. And we have the New Testament church continuing to keep it after His death. How do the date and timing of His resurrection play into this? It does not! The sole purpose of Christ foretelling how long He would be in the grave is to prove that He was the Messiah—not to change which day is holy.

Jesus gave only one sign that He was the Messiah, sent by God—He would be in the grave three days and three nights (72 hours), and then would be resurrected by God, something which He could not control Himself. So the question of whether or not He was in the grave three days and three nights has nothing to do with which day God set apart and made holy, and everything to do with whether Jesus Christ was the Messiah!

The "sign of Jonah" is the only sign that Christ specifically gives to prove that He was the Messiah. The sign of Jonah is not a sign of preaching or bringing a message, as some allege. Certainly Jonah did that, just as Christ did. But that selective and erroneous interpretation conveniently overlooks the plain meaning of Jesus' words.

The "sign of Jonah" is mentioned three times in the gospels:

1) "And while the crowds were thickly gathered together, He began to say, 'This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation'" (Luke 11:29-30).

Notice that He does not specify what the sign is here, but only alludes to a comparison with Jonah. He says that there is a sign, but does not say what it was.

2) "Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him, asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. . . . 'A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.' And He left them and departed" (Matthew 16:1, 4).

Again, there is no elaboration here, but this is actually the second time it is mentioned in the book of Matthew. The first occurrence demonstrates plainly what the sign of Jonah was, and so here Christ is merely repeating His answer from Matthew 12:38-40:

3) "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.' But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth'" (Matthew 12:38-40; see Jonah 1:17).

Both the account in Luke 11 and the one in Matthew 12 also mention Nineveh, and even Jonah's preaching. It is plain in both instances that they are mentioned to contrast the righteousness of previous generations with the righteousness of the current generation, particularly the Pharisees. To read into these scriptures that the "Sign of Jonah" is merely preaching is to horribly twist the Word of God—especially when Matthew 12:40 states categorically that, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Those listening were certainly not confused about Christ's allusion to Jonah. It was plain to them that He predicted when He would arise: "On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, 'Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, "After three days I will rise." Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, "He has risen from the dead." So the last deception will be worse than the first'" (Matthew 27:62-64). Even the Pharisees understood that Jesus Christ's statement was focused on the timing of the resurrection!

In other verses, Jesus says He would rise "the third day" (Matthew 16:21; Mark 10:34; Luke 24:7). There is no contradiction between this expression and the term "three days and three nights." Both expressions are used interchangeably in the scriptures. In Genesis, for example, we read that "God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the first day . . . and the evening [darkness] and the morning [light] were the second day . . . and the evening [now three periods of night] and the morning [now three periods of light] were the third day" (Genesis 1:4-13). Here the term "the third day" is shown to include three days and three nights.

Whether or not Jesus fulfilled the sign of Jonah by being in the grave three days and three nights (which cannot fit between late Friday and early Sunday) is of great importance in verifying that He was and is our Messiah. But it has nothing to do with which day of the week is holy.

David C. Grabbe

Matthew 16:13-23

Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jesus speaks of building His church and being crucified and resurrected. This was a major step forward in the disciples' understanding, and it corrected the erroneous prophetic teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. However, from the incident that occurs in verses 22-23, we can see that Peter—and probably the other disciples also—were not yet fully convinced of it.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why the Transfiguration?

Matthew 28:1

Matthew 28:1 provides additional proof of two Sabbaths occurring that week. However, the Bible's translators, confused by the Greek wording of this verse, have consistently mistranslated it. Matthew writes, "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn . . . ." The wording of the original text, though, reads, "after the Sabbaths" - plural!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Matthew 28:1

By comparing these four accounts (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), it is evident that Mary Magdalene and the other women arrived at the tomb early in the morning on Sunday morning, while it was still dark. When they arrived, they saw that the stone had already been rolled back. None of these verses specify when Christ arose from the dead, but we do know that He left the tomb before the women arrived. It is plain that the women arrived early in the morning on the first day of the week, and first saw the resurrected Christ at that time. But these accounts do not say that was when Christ arose.

Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:1-2 also reiterate that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week.

David C. Grabbe

Mark 8:31

Even the chief priests and Pharisees remembered His sign. They tell Pilate after the crucifixion, "Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise'" (Matthew 27:63).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Mark 15:42-46

Several points stand out in this passage:

» Evening was beginning—at best Joseph had only about three hours before sunset, when the Sabbath would begin. The task of preparing and applying the spices for burial required work, which is expressly forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10). Additionally, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 demands that an executed criminal be buried before nightfall, and the Jewish law of the time required all dead bodies to be buried before a Sabbath or a feast day (John 19:31).

» Before he could take the body down, Joseph had to go before Pilate and receive permission. At first Pilate did not believe Jesus had died so quickly, so he called the centurion of the crucifixion detail to verify it (Mark 15:44-45). This delay must have taken at least a half hour.

» After being granted the body, Joseph went to a local shop and bought several yards of fine linen in which to wrap Jesus. With the help of Nicodemus, he then took the body down, wrapped it in the linen—along with about a hundred pounds of spices—and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39-41).

With all this activity and work between the various locations, Joseph and Nicodemus must have had very little daylight left when they finally rolled the stone over the entrance to the tomb. On this point all the accounts again concur; sunset was very near (Matthew 27:57; Luke 23:54; John 19:31).

No one disputes that Jesus was laid "in the heart of the earth" at sunset. If, as we have shown, He was buried for exactly 72 hours, He was also resurrected at sunset—not at dawn!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Mark 16:9

This verse is translated in the New King James Version as, "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared. . . ." The King James Version translates it, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared. . . ." Finally, The Interlinear Bible, in its word-for-word translation, renders it, "having risen And early on the first of the week, He appeared. . . ." Does this verse say the resurrection was early on the first day of the week?

Here is another instance of the translators mistranslating a verse because of their preconceived beliefs, arising from the "traditions of men"! The commentators admit the construction of the sentence is unusual, but refuse to acknowledge its plain sense. The literal translation, with only slight modification, gives the best rendering: "And having risen, early on the first day of the week He appeared. . . ."

The Greek word translated "having risen" (anastas, an active aorist participle) suggests an action completed prior to the time of the main verb, in this case, "appeared." Thus, Jesus was resurrected sometime before He appeared to Mary Magdalene early on the first day of the week. That is all that Mark is trying to say! Placing a simple comma after "rose" (NKJV) or "risen" (KJV) is the easiest way to resolve the matter. The words of the angel to the women, "He is risen!" (Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6) also give the sense that He was raised at some point prior to His Sunday morning appearances.

So we see that this verse neither proves nor disproves a Sabbath or a Sunday resurrection! The clues about when He really was raised from the dead—Sabbath at sunset—are found in other verses.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

Luke 24:21

This verse is commonly misunderstood in relation to the timing of Christ's death and resurrection. Two of the disciples, traveling to Emmaus, were conversing with the resurrected Christ, though they did not know it was He (verses 13-16). They were rehearsing what had happened in Jerusalem to Jesus by the chief priests and rulers of Judea (verses 18-20).

This conversation occurred on Sunday, the same day that the women, Peter, and John had gone to the tomb only to find it empty. Yet these disciples heading to Emmaus say that it had only been three days, not four. How do we reconcile this to the overwhelming body of evidence that Christ was buried on a Wednesday afternoon and raised again on a Saturday afternoon?

The key is in the repetition of the words "all these things," "these things," and "the things" of verses 14, 18-19 and 21. "Things" is modified by the disciples' specifying in verse 20 that they were speaking of the actions that "the chief priests and our rulers" had done to Christ. The fact that is often forgotten is that their ignominious actions against Him did not end with delivering Him to Pilate for crucifixion! (See Matthew 27:62-66.)

The day after "the Day of Preparation" was Thursday, the first day of Unleavened Bread. These Jewish leaders went to Pilate on the holy day to "guarantee" that their Messiah would not rise from the dead. And with the guard in place and the tomb sealed, they felt certain nothing more would happen.

Thus, when the two disciples on the road to Emmaus say that Sunday "is the third day since these things happened," they are counting from the last despicable actions of the chief priests and Pharisees on Thursday, not Wednesday. Note that their words preclude a Friday crucifixion as well, since Sunday is only the second day from Friday.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'

John 2:19

Some have interpreted this verse to mean that Jesus Christ raised himself from the dead, which is based in Gnosticism—particularly Docetism, the belief that Jesus was a human, but Christ was a separate, spiritual being. This false belief manifests itself in the notion of Jesus being "fully man and fully God." This interpretation overlooks the plain meaning of "temple" in the Greek. The word "temple" also appears in verse 14, but it derives from a different Greek word, hieron, meaning a "shrine" or "holy building." In verses 19-21, John uses the word naos, signifying the "dwelling place" of deity.

In the New Testament, naos is used metaphorically of the bodies of believers (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19). Whereas the Jews of John 2:19 were thinking in terms of a building, the Temple, Jesus was referring to His body, the church.

During Jesus' trial, the Jews brought up what He said in John 2:19 as an accusation against him. However, Mark 14:58 adds two significant phrases that clarify what Jesus said beyond a shadow of doubt: "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.'"

To understand what He meant, we must consider what occurred as a result of His death and resurrection. The instant God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, the church—the "body" in which God dwells—became an accomplished fact. Jesus Christ is its first member and Head. This is also one of the senses of Matthew 16:18: "On this rock [Jesus Himself] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it."

The true meaning, then, of John 2:19 is that Jesus makes a parable-like statement about His nature then and in the future. His physical body at that time represented the extent of His church; He was the only believer, its only member. But once the Father resurrected Him and He became Mediator and High Priest, He indeed raised up a body of believers, the Temple of God, of which we are part.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Man and Fully God? (2001)

John 20:1

Mary Magdalene arrives at the grave early on the first day of the week while it was still dark—and Jesus has already been resurrected! So much for Easter sunrise services! Even if one thought Christ rose at dawn on Sunday, counting back 72 hours (three full days and three full nights) brings one to dawn on Thursday, and God's Word explicitly says that Christ was buried at sunset!

Yes, Jesus rose from the grave, but not on Sunday, the day traditional Christians call "the Lord's day." If He did, He could not be our Savior because He would have failed to fulfill the one sign of His Messiahship: three days and three nights in the tomb. Jesus rose on the day of which He says He is Lord: the true seventh-day Sabbath (Mark 2:28).

Was Jesus Resurrected on Easter Sunday?

John 20:1

It is not surprising to find no reference to Jesus or the early church involved in the wavesheaf ritual. However, they were very much aware of it, and it clearly shows in the accounts of Jesus' resurrection. In almost all translations, John 20:1 is rendered, "On the first day of the week. . . ." In Greek, this phrase is te mia ton sabbaton. Sabbaton can be used in a singular or plural sense to designate "Sabbath" or "Sabbaths" or "week" or "weeks."

Notice what Bullinger in the Companion Bible says about this Greek phrase:

The first day of the week = "On the first (day) of the Sabbaths" (pl.). Gk—Te mia ton sabbaton. The word "day" is rightly supplied, as mia is feminine, and so must agree with a feminine noun understood, while sabbaton is neuter. Luke 24:1 has the same. Matthew reads, "towards dawn on the first (day) of the Sabbaths," and Mark (16:2), "very early on the first (day) of the Sabbaths."

Our understanding of the importance of the wavesheaf in relation to both Christ's acceptance and the count to Pentecost should lead us to see that the gospel writers were establishing the exact day of Christ's acceptance. This day was the first day in the count to Pentecost since He was not only the wavesheaf offering, but He was also the beginning of the spiritual harvest.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001

John 20:1

In the Christian era, the Sabbath has been a point of controversy since at least the fourth century AD, when the Roman Catholic Church assumed the authority to change the day of worship from the seventh day to the first. In the years that followed, thousands of seventh-day Sabbath-keepers were imprisoned or killed for obeying the fourth commandment.

When the Protestant Reformation took place centuries later, those opposed to the abuses and venality of the Catholic Church broke away in an attempt to set things straight. However, they continued to teach a number of corrupted doctrines, including the change to the Sabbath. Today, the vast majority of professing Christians hold the first day as the proper day of worship, even though the Bible is clear and consistent that only the seventh day was blessed, sanctified, and made holy (Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11).

Catholic theologians are unashamed of the change that their church made, readily admitting that if one goes by the Bible alone, the seventh day is still the Sabbath. For them, the matter comes down to church leadership having the authority to modify such things. Protestants, on the other hand, are unwilling to concede Papal authority. Instead, they justify Sunday-worship—a tradition of men—by saying they are honoring the day on which Christ rose from the dead.

Does this tradition have merit? It is certainly a widespread assumption, one that seems plausible on the surface and to which few give a second thought. Even so, there is no biblical record, implication, or hint of God removing the sanctification and holiness given to the seventh day and transferring it to another day.

Inherent within the assertion that the Sabbath has changed is the idea that the Creator Himself is changeable—that His standard of righteousness changes over time, and He is not serious about what He says. Yet, James 1:17 reminds us that with God "there is no variation or shadow of turning." He does not change—His fundamental character and approach to things are constant. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever," and the next verse says, "Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings" (ESV). God's changelessness is a major defense we have against false teaching. Thus, any doctrine that involves God backtracking on what He said—such as changing the Sabbath command—should be seen for what it truly is: an affront to His perfect, constant nature.

The Sabbath is neither a minor detail nor an obsolete ritual. It was the capstone of the creation week and is a creation of its own (Genesis 2:1-3). Humanity, created on the sixth day, is the pinnacle of God's physical creation, yet He created one more thing—the Sabbath—because physical man is incomplete. The physical creation is complete, yet there is a spiritual creation still taking place. God is creating mankind in His spiritual image (Genesis 1:26), and He has set apart—sanctified—the seventh day of each week to allow us to further this creation through fellowship with Him without being distracted by ordinary labors and pursuits. This does not mean we cannot fellowship with Him at other times—we can and should! But in setting aside the seventh day and making it holy, He has ensured that there will always be a space of time—a recurring memorial—to return our focus to the spiritual work God is doing.

The high regard that God gives to the seventh-day Sabbath is evident throughout Scripture. God began teaching Israel about the Sabbath even before He gave the Ten Commandments and made the covenant with Israel (see Exodus 16:14-30; 20:8-11). For forty years, Israel had a weekly lesson on which day God had set apart because no manna fell for them to gather on the seventh day—God had provided twice the amount the day before.

Not only was the Sabbath command in place before the Old Covenant was made, but God even made an additional, perpetual covenant just for the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17). The Old Covenant—that temporary agreement between God and Israel—was made obsolete with the coming of the New Covenant, but the Sabbath exists outside of that agreement. In addition, notice God's promise at the core of the New Covenant: "I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts" (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16; see Jeremiah 31:31-34). While an agreement may be temporary, God is intent on writing His laws permanently on our hearts—and the Sabbath is one of the most important.

Time and again, ancient Israel was subjugated because of Sabbath-breaking and idolatry (see, for example, Ezekiel 20). God gives no indication that the Sabbath is temporary, that He intended to change it later, or that He is ambivalent about His command. In fact, the prophecies specifically show that the Sabbath will be kept after Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom (Isaiah 66:22-23; Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:3).

The gospel writers also do not give any hint or suggestion that God's sanctification of the Sabbath would somehow be switched to the first day of the week. Jesus leaves no impression that the day of worship would change upon His death. Though He and the Pharisees were frequently at odds over the Sabbath, it is clear that the controversy was always over how the Sabbath should be kept, never if or when.

Jesus' teachings about the Sabbath are just as applicable for His followers today as the Beatitudes and the parables (Matthew 12:1-12; 24:20; Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-4; Luke 6:1-9; 13:10-16; 14:1-5; John 5:16-19; 7:21-24). He taught the liberating intent of the Sabbath—not the abolishment of it!—because Pharisaic tradition had turned the Sabbath into a burden rather than the "delight" that God intended (Isaiah 58:13-14). Not only did Jesus keep the Sabbath and teach others on it (Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 4:16), but after His death, the apostles and even Gentile believers also kept it (Acts 13:14-15, 42-44; 15:1-2, 14-21; 16:12-15; 17:2; 18:1-11).

Thus, from creation through the Millennium—and including Christ's ministry and the New Covenant church—we see God's establishment and steadfast reinforcement of the seventh-day Sabbath. On top of this, there is no scriptural intimation that the day of Christ's death, resurrection, ascension, or any other activity would modify the blessedness, sanctification, and holiness that He had already given to the seventh day.

David C. Grabbe
Did Christ's Resurrection Change the Day of Worship? (Part One)

John 20:17

This occurred early in the morning not long after sunrise. We do not know exactly what time after sunrise, but the women originally came to the tomb while it was still dark (verse 1)—and He was already gone from the tomb at that point! He simply could not have risen at sunrise. It was sometime after sunrise when Jesus stopped her and instructed her to tell His disciples these things. So, shortly after Mary returned to the disciples—however long it took her to get back to where they were assembled—Jesus ascended to His Father's throne in heaven to be accepted as our Redeemer and High Priest.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension

Acts 2:24

Twenty-three times a similar statement is made in the Scriptures. Someone else, the Father, God, raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus could not do it Himself! He was dead.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Man and Fully God?

1 Corinthians 15:26

If death is part of God's good creation, how can it also be an enemy? God does not create enemies, does He? Yes, He does! For the ultimate good of His people, God has allowed—and even raised up—many different kinds of enemies throughout history to test us. Without making light of the seriousness of human death, we might look on it as a "disposable test tool." When God has finished with it, He will throw it in the garbage!

Yes, death is an enemy. Death and its inseparable and causative partner, sin, are enemies that, although they have led to so much unhappiness and misery over the years, God will one day destroy. But they will not go down without a fight!

In some respects, the first and most crucial battle in the war between humankind and these enemies, sin and death, has been won already by our Savior: ". . . knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Romans 6:9).

Because Christ won this first battle through His death and resurrection, we—His fellow-soldiers (II Timothy 2:3-4; Ephesians 6:11-18)—have been given an opportunity to fight in these subsequent battles, to participate in the destruction of sin and death. Our reward is to receive the gift of eternal life: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive" (I Corinthians 15:20, 22).

Death of a Lamb

1 Corinthians 15:49

The "heavenly Man" is Jesus Christ. We will be transformed to be like His glorious body. If we are to have a body, which will be like His, then He must also have a body now. When God restored Him to His former glory (Jesus' prayer in John 17:3-5 requests He be restored to the glory He had with the Father before the world was), He then returned to the kind of body He had before when He was the model for Adam.

Do we understand what this means? When He was resurrected, He was restored to what He was before when He was the model for mankind. As the model for Adam, He was like He was when He was resurrected. He was God. The composition was spirit, not flesh, but His body had shape and solidity (remember that He was touched in His resurrection appearances).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part Two)

1 Corinthians 15:49

Jesus Christ was resurrected bodily, yet He was composed of spirit. When we are resurrected, it will also be bodily. We, too, will be "quickening"—life-giving, composed of spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part One)

Ephesians 4:10-13

When He ascended, He was resurrected as very God. He was an immortal spirit Being once again!

These verses show the goal, the focus, the very reason the church exists—why we have been given the Spirit of God: "till we come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God." Paul is describing something that will not occur while we are still physical beings, pointing to the great goal that lies beyond the resurrection of the dead!

We find our hope and goal in verse 13. We must begin to expand on what Jesus Christ is now—that is what the apostle Paul points to. Our standard is not Jesus merely as a man before He was crucified and resurrected, but the great goal is becoming like Jesus Christ is now—ascended and at God's right hand!

We are still mortal and physical, but we are in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), not just in form and shape. The image of God that He is concerned about is the fact that we have the power of mind. Because of this, and with the help of the gifts of God, particularly His Spirit, we can come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh

Philippians 3:21

When Jesus was resurrected, He took pains to make it clear to His disciples that He was not a ghost, not merely an essence. He had flesh and bone. He was plainly saying that there was substance to what He was then—and thus to what He is today.

To put it bluntly, He was saying that He was corporeal. Corporeal from Webster's means "having tangible qualities of a body such as shape, size, and resistance to force." If a person leans against the wall, it resists him. Why? Because it is solid, tangible. If Jesus was not solid, whenever His disciples stretched their hands out to Him or perhaps ran their fingers against the palm of His hand where the nail marks were, they would have felt nothing, yet there was substance.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part Two)

Hebrews 2:14-15

All men have been subject to the fear of death, and it is something that we have to strive to overcome. When we are called out of the world, we do not immediately shed all of our wrong, human perspectives. It may take years to overcome our fear of death, and most of us never do. However, Christ has freed us from the fear of death, and now we live in the fear of something else, the fear of God (II Corinthians 7:1).

Even so, we still fear death a great deal. We often take a loved one's or a friend's death very hard, and personally, we fight death with a vengeance. These are natural, human things to do, and we are not bad people if we do them. Nevertheless, there are situations and reactions that we need to learn to approach from God's perspective. Normal reactions like deep grief or denial are hard to let go because we have all our lifetime been enslaved to the fear of death.

Even Jesus, facing the horrific death of crucifixion and the crushing penalty of humanity's sins, reacted with strong, visceral emotion:

And He was withdrawn from [His disciples] about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44)

Jesus was God in the flesh (John 1:14), and at this moment, His flesh cried out in anticipation of the suffering and pain He would soon encounter. Not only that, He had never experienced a moment of being forsaken by His Father (Matthew 27:46), when He would be absolutely alone to undergo the cessation of His life in payment for all iniquity. How frightening a prospect that must have been! Yet, even in His desire to avoid these physical and emotional pains, Jesus illustrates perfect submission to His Father's will, realizing its necessity for the success of His plan. Knowing God would raise Him to eternal life after three days, He did not fear death—what He feared most was life without God!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Death Is Not the End (Part One)

Hebrews 4:1-10

What happened when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? He entered His rest! And when Christ was resurrected? On the Sabbath, when the wavesheaf was cut! They all tie together. By a resurrection from the dead, we inherit and fully enter the Kingdom of God. We could call it the World Tomorrow, and we could probably come up with a few other terms for it.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ's Death, Resurrection, and Ascension

Revelation 20:11-13

The New Testament consistently teaches the doctrine of life after death through the resurrection from the dead (see I Corinthians 15 for the Bible's most concentrated teaching on it). While many understand that those whom God converts in this life will rise from their graves at the return of Christ to enjoy their eternal rewards (I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:14-17), the Bible reveals that all humanity will live again!

The apostle John calls the people standing before God's throne "the dead, small and great." His description is very general. Note that he does not say "some" of the dead but simply "the dead." God does not discriminate between good or bad, rich or poor, free or slave, those who lived before Christ or after Him, or any other distinction. It appears plain that He raises to life every human who has ever lived who has not already been changed to spirit!

As laid out neatly in this chapter's chronological sequence, this second resurrection occurs immediately after the glorious Millennium of Christ's reign on the earth (Revelation 20:5) and Satan's final rebellion (Revelation 20:7-10). Unlike those rising to glory in the resurrection at Christ's return, called the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5-6), this vast sea of humanity returns to life for the purposes of judgment. This Great White Throne period is a time of evaluation of each person's individual works, that is, his day-to-day manner of life.

For some reason, some commentators believe that this is only the impenitent dead—those who will be cast into the Lake of Fire, mentioned in Revelation 20:14-15. However, verse 15 clearly states that only those "not found written in the Book of Life" will suffer the second death. This is a general resurrection, as it has often been called, of unsaved mankind. It is not God's desire to condemn them to eternal death, for He wants everyone to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). They will be judged—as His church is being judged now (I Peter 4:17)—for the purposes of granting them salvation, if they accept His calling and submit to His way of life. While it is the church's "day of salvation" right now (II Corinthians 6:1-2), for these people, it will be their first opportunity to accept God's invitation to eternal life.

Consider the enormous number of people who will rise in this resurrection! A conservative estimate of all who have ever lived on the earth is upwards of 50 billion people and growing all the time. These billions will awake to a paradise on earth, which will have been made beautiful, prosperous, and productive under the care of the sons of God. The newly resurrected may suppose they have gone to heaven, but they will soon learn that the blessed meek inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

What a massive effort it will take to feed, clothe, house, and teach such an incredible population! Making matters even more difficult is the fact that they will come from every age, ethnic group, religion, language, and culture that has existed since the time of Adam! They will range from jungle dwellers of Borneo to the most sophisticated and intellectual cosmopolitans of modern times, from barbarous Mongols under Genghis Khan to vegetarian peaceniks heralding the Age of Aquarius, from animist tribesmen to Buddhist monks. We can hardly fathom the massive cost, infrastructure, organization, and leadership it will take to give care and instruction to so many people as will happen in this great period of judgment.

The Old Testament also contains a snapshot of this general resurrection, though it concentrates on the resurrection of the manifold millions of Israelites who have lived down the centuries. This is the famous prophecy of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:

The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." (Ezekiel 37:1-3)

The people whose bones these were had been dead a long time. The bones were dry, as if no juice of life could ever enliven them again. The prophet's reply is essentially, "Only God could make them live again. To me, they look hopelessly dead." But we know, as Jesus instructs, "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, and cover you with skin and put breath in you: and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD."'" . . . So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:4-6, 10)

Notice what God says will happen in this resurrection: He will give them breath—the breath of life—to fill their lungs, and He will return to them their flesh: their sinews and skin. Clearly, God will raise them up to physical life again on the earth, not to some kind of ethereal existence in a celestial Xanadu. They will soon realize that their ideas of life after death were greatly mistaken and that the God of Israel, the One who raised them from the dead, is the one true God.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Death Is Not the End (Part Five)


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