Pastoral Exhortation

Why was it necessary that Jesus should rise from the dead?

Written by Samuel Williard Sunday, 16 April 2017

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[This is a portion of a sermon preached by Samuel Williard (1640-1707). He was one of the most important preachers among the second generation of New England Puritans.]

It was required that Christ should rise from the dead. Just as He had to die, He had to rise and live. This was necessary for several reasons:

1. He rose again to prove and declare that He was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4).

During His Humiliation, and particularly in His death, Christ’s divinity was obscured under a veil of the many infirmities of His humanity, but in His resurrection He proved His eternal power and Godhead. Indeed it is true that others were raised, and indeed shortly all shall rise; therefore merely to be raised from the dead is not proof of the divinity of the one raised. Yet, for Someone to raise Himself by His own power, that is sufficient proof of divinity. He gave evidence of divinity by raising others in His name, but He was required to raise Himself by His own power to prove Himself God. There was a further proof of His divinity in the resurrection, in that He died according to the Law and justice of God, sentenced as our Surety to suffer the whole weight of the wrath of God. For Him to be released from this sentence, after He had been born for that very purpose, and to live again having fulfilled all the demands of justice upon Him, proves Him to be God. The weight of wrath that He bore would have broken the whole of creation, and they would never have been released.

2. In this way He attested to His perfect victory over death and our spiritual enemies.

It was not enough that Christ should die for us. In dying He must be a conqueror, otherwise His death would not profit us. Indeed, He suffered in order that He might overcome – “That through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). This was shown and proven by His resurrection. This is the reason why Paul, after he had demonstrated by many arguments that Christ was risen, and then shown what was the glorious cause of it, concluded the passage with a note of triumph – “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). It is true that Christ conquered all on His cross: there the battle was fought and there the victory was gained. But that victory was made into a triumph in His resurrection. Now His enemies fled, quitting the field – “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those also who hate him flee before him” (Psa. 68:1). He made a conquest of death itself, and it lay dead at His feet. Christ would never be known as a conqueror, except for this. If death had held Him as her captive, where would His victory be?

3. He rose for our justification.

“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). As He died to pay our debt, so He rose again to acquit or absolve us from it. Christ’s resurrection was both His and our discharge: His, when He stood as our surety bond for us, and ours, as those for whom He was Surety. As Christ by dying was made virtually, so by rising He becomes actually the object of our justifying faith.

He became a sufficient object of faith not merely by undertaking to appear in our place, but by actually making an end of the transgressions on our account and paying our whole debt. If He had not made satisfaction for us, we could not in justice have been pardoned. If He had not fully reconciled us to God and completely answered the Law’s demands, we could not have been saved. Therefore if He had continued on in death, it would have shown the continuing need for payment; which would have revealed its imperfection, and consequently its invalidity. Christ could not rise until justice acquitted Him. His bond was submitted for our cause, and it must be accepted by the Judge, and that only by a full payment of the bond. When He arose, this bond was returned to Him, and cancelled. Our debt is paid, our bond is returned. Therefore His resurrection stands in opposition to all that could be laid to our charge (Rom. 8:34). Therefore this is one of the arguments that the apostle Paul uses to prove that Christ must be risen, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17).

4. It was to put Christ into a proper condition for the completing of the work remaining in the execution of His offices.

We observed in a previous sermon that Christ executes His offices in both states of Humiliation and Exaltation. As our Priest, He was to satisfy justice for us, and afterwards to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25). As our Prophet, here He taught with His mouth, but there He sent forth His Spirit, and therefore He had to go to the Father (John 16:17). As our King, here He commanded His disciples and gave them laws, but He must also govern them by His power and wield the sceptre over the world. This was accomplished by His resurrection (Psa. 2:6) and following (cf. Acts 13:33). Indeed, there was the glory of a mediator promised to Him as a reward for His obedience, and it was necessary for Him to rise in order to take possession of it –”Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).

5. It was necessary for Him to rise, so He would be the first fruits of our resurrection, both spiritually and bodily (1 Cor. 15:20-23).

By “first fruits” we are not to understand first in order of time, but in order of causation. Those who rose at Christ’s death, as described in the Gospel (Matt. 27:52, 53), rose by the power and influence of His resurrection. Furthermore, it is a sure pledge of the resurrection of His members. When the first fruits were offered to God under the Law, He accepted them and gave His people an assurance of the harvest. The apostle Paul makes the same point in 1 Cor. 15, using the order of the covenants. Just as Adam in the first covenant, standing for us, procured death for us, so Christ in the new covenant, being our Surety, has purchased a resurrection for us. His resurrection is the earnest of ours (1 Cor. 15:20).