Easter Messages (3)

Faith and the Resurrection

R.J. Rushdoony

Let us worship God.

“The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!”
“I am He that liveth and was dead, saith the Lord, and behold I am alive evermore.” Hallelujah!

Let us pray. All glory be to Thee, God the Father almighty, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. We praise Thee that in this day, our savior, Jesus Christ, was risen from the dead, resurrected as the first fruits of them that sleep, and that in Him we are partakers of His victory over sin and death. We thank Thee that, by the working of the Holy Spirit in us, we who are Thine are led into all truth as it is in the risen Christ. And so, we bless thee and praise thee, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, for thy great mercy, and so great salvation unto us. How great and marvelous thou art, oh Lord, and we rejoice in thee and in thy ways. In Christ’s name, amen.

Our scripture is in Matthew 27:50-54. Matthew 27:50-54; our subject, “Faith and the Resurrection.”

“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”

This is a startling text, and not much is said about it by some commentators, nor is it often preached about. It is too strange a narrative for some. It does, however, have an interesting confirmation, and WF Albright and CS Mann, both modernists, summarize the confirmation in these words.

“Josephus {Jewish War VI. 299) has an account of an earthquake before the fall of Jerusalem, while a letter of Jerome (120.8) recalls that the now lost Gospel according to the Hebrews speaks of a cleavage in the masonry of the temple porch, which might have left the Most Holy Place open to view. The Talmud (TB, Yoma 39b) has an interesting story concerned with Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, which reports that the doors of the temple opened of their own accord forty years {sic’) before the fall of Jerusalem, so portending the end of the temple.”

So we have three confirmations of this earthquake, two from Jewish and one from a Christian source.

For a generation after the crucifixion and resurrection, there were no challenges to the historicity of the events surrounding the crucifixion and the resurrection. Only when all the eyewitnesses were dead did skeptics dare to speak out. Prior to that, there were too many people who could say (remember there were five hundred at one time who saw Him after the resurrection), too many who could say: “I saw Him in the flesh” after His death.

We do not know how many non-canonical documents reporting on the events became lost, but certainly the events were startling. They begin first with the death of Christ on the cross. He, as the second person of the Trinity, now in His Incarnation, experienced the death penalty for us all. As the Adam in His Incarnation of a new humanity, He assumed not only our humanity but also our death penalty. He experienced not only death, but an agonizing death as a criminal. Then, second; various supernatural occurrences marked His death. We will return to those shortly. Third; the centurion and those who were with him feared greatly. They saw a supernatural connection between Christ’s death and the violent reaction of the ground under their feet. Not only was there an earthquake, but rocks were rent asunder.

As RCH Lenski pointed out, there were three supernatural signs and witnesses to the meaning of Christ’s death. We’ve already touched on them, but to go into them a little more fully.

First, the great temple curtain, veiling the Holy of Holies was rent in twain. The Holy of Holies was exposed and profaned. Lenski supposed that the earthquake snapped the great beam at the top and thereby ripped the veil in two as it fell. The destruction of the sanctity of the Holy of Holies at the time of the evening sacrifices meant the end of its holiness, the end of the ministrations of the Jewish High Priest and the end of Israel as God’s chosen people. Their sanctuary, their church, had been profaned by an act of God, in effect cast out.

The second sign was the great earthquake and the rending of the rocks. The coincidence of this event with Christ’s death is not accidental. The earth, created by God, reacted to the death of its creator, God the Son, “…by whom all things were made and without Him was not anything made that was made.” with a great and gigantic shudder of revulsion. Man in Eden chose death, in choosing to be his own god and lawmaker. And now the earthquake witnessed to the horror of man’s act from Eden to Calvary. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…” John tells us. And when men chose sin and death, the world under their feet witnessed to their choice of destruction. God thereby declared that those who hate him choose death and destruction.

The third sign was the opening of the graves by the earthquake. Now the first stage of this is not unusual. At times, earthquakes have broken open graves. In this instance, however, many of the saints of old arose after the resurrection to enter the Holy City and to appear unto many. Since the earthquake occurred too late in the day and the Sabbath began at sundown of the night before no work could be done on the Sabbath to repair the damages to the graves. This had to remain until the first day of the week. On that day, however, these long-dead saints arose out of their graves to enter the city. Their bodies and souls were reunited. Christ’s resurrection, as the first-fruits of the victory over death, is thus openly seen as a victory of all over death. Jesus Christ had entered death to destroy death. These saints represented the Church of the Advent, appearing to witness to a death-bound world.

The Sanhedrin had placed a guard on the tomb, a Roman guard, a detail assigned supposedly to prevent any theft of Christ’s body, but actually to prevent the Resurrection. The Sanhedrin had more faith in Rome than in God! They believed that because Rome had executed Christ, they might be able to keep Him from rising. It is possible that many in Jerusalem, with the earthquake, and then the resurrection of dead men, believed it to be the end of the world. We are not told to whom they appeared, but it was unto many. They obviously did not appear to the disciples, who found the first reports of the risen Christ hard to believe. Those to whom they appeared did not apparently become believers, even though they had seen the dead saints risen and alive. Our Lord tells us in Luke 16:31:

“If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”

This is a devastating verse, because our Lord here equates failure to believe in Moses, that is in God’s Law, and if they refuse to believe in the prophets, who set forth the application of the Law, then men will not believe one who rises from the dead. Our Lord is obviously referring to Himself. He declares a disbelief in Moses and the Law and the Prophets to be a disbelief in Him. The reference is not to an acceptance of certain facts, nor to a faith without works, but to a supernatural and a saving faith.

James tells us in James 2:19: “thou believest that there is one God, thou doest well. The devils also believe and tremble.” It would be difficult to stress more strongly a rejection of antinomianism. We are told on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the prophets, appeared to talk with our Lord. Very clearly, this same unity of the covenant is seen in the resurrection of the saints. The devils in Hell and in the temple and in the church, know the reality of God’s work in Christ, and of the unity of the Law and the prophets with Christ, and yet they will not manifest the saving faith. The essence of their faith is my will be done, my word is my law and I want only an insurance policy from Christ, not a total Lord.

These dead saints, as we have seen, did not appear to the disciples but to others. They witnessed the enemies of Christ. We are told by St. Paul in Romans 1:18-20:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (or injustice) of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (or injustice); Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”

At times, God in supernatural ways, as in this instance, has witnessed mightily to the ungodly, leaving them without excuse.

The Holy City had been profaned. It had received a witness of staggering dimension, but however terrified at the moment, it refused to see Jesus as the Messiah. Our Lord declared that the judgment to come on Judea would be without equal: “for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world at this time, no, nor ever shall be,” according to Matthew 24:21. The fall of Jerusalem in the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70 AD was the greatest disaster in all of history, but it is a curious fact that people have a habit of forgetting disasters very quickly. In a book on plagues, written in the thirties, the scholar writing it marveled that in so few years after the great flu’ epidemic of 1918 and thereafter, which wiped out millions upon millions and in two weeks more would have wiped out all humanity if it had continued to accelerate at the same rate, then had forgotten it. And again and again, we see men suppressing the truth. Paul says they hold the truth, or hold back, they suppress the truth in their unrighteousness or injustice. With regard to the fall of Jerusalem, all too many scholars and nonscholars have tried to belittle the extent of the horror, the vengeance of the Romans, and the death of vast numbers by crucifixion, but the facts are incapable. In a vast area, all the trees were cut down to provide enough wood for crosses.

Now at the time of the resurrection, the dead came alive. They were resurrected, but people feared, yet they did not believe. Then, as now, fear is a substitute for faith in too many people. But for us, Christ is risen from the dead. Moses and Elijah are the resurrected saints who came to His transfiguration, and now at the resurrection, others arise to witness for Him. He is risen, and He is the great law-giver, savior and Lord, our prophet, priest and king forever. Men and nations will stand or fall in terms of their relationship to Him.

Let us pray. Oh Lord, our God, we give thanks unto thee that thou art He who hast redeemed us, saved us from sin and death, so that we are the people of the resurrection, ours is the inheritance of eternal life. Ours is the freedom from sin and death, and with our perfect sanctification in the world to come, will come our perfection in Christ and for His purposes. We praise thee, oh Lord, and we rejoice that thou hast in Jesus Christ, resurrected us also from the power of sin and death. In His name we pray. Amen.

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books. Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting:

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