Christ’s Burial, Resurrection and Ascension
One is not proposing to go into the matter of Christ’s work on the cross as this has been dealt with many times in other places as it is a vitally important matter. However, one would remind my readers that the work of atonement was finished when Christ died. The evidence for this is:-
(1) When Christ died the veil in the temple was rent in two from the top to the bottom showing that God could come out in blessing (Matthew 27:51).
(2) The tombs at the same time were opened showing that those in the graves could come out on the other side of death (not simply be resuscitated as were those such as Lazarus). However, it should be noted that the saints did not come out of the tombs bodily until Christ Himself had done so. This was I believe to show that Christ was the firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18).
(3) When Christ died there was an earthquake, this being an evidence of God’s intervention (consider Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi where the prisoner’s bonds were loosed) as well as the effect of the graves being opened (see (2) above).
(1) Christ when on the cross told the dying thief that he would that day be with Him (Christ) in paradise, something He could not have promised if the work of atonement was not going to be completed until his own resurrection (Luke 23:43).
(2) Just before Christ died he committed his spirit to his Father which He would hardly have done if he was still abandoned by God who was his Father (Luke 23:46)
(3) When Christ died He said: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Apart from the above we have the following specific statements:-
(1) “Who himself bore out sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24)
(2) “(He) made peace by the blood of his cross” Colossians 1:20)
Note that He bore our sins in his body and not out of it. Further, it was on the tree and not in the grave that He bore them, Also it was by his blood which was connected with the cross that peace was made.
Some translations suggest that Christ carried our sins to the cross, but this is a very doubtful translation and Mr. Darby deals with this wording in his Collected Writings Volume 7 on pages 214 and 293 to 301. Further, as one hymn says “Buried He carried our sins far away”. This might well be taken to mean that He had our sins on Him when He went into the grave. Bunyan’s Pilgrims progress may give us this idea, but it was the load on Christian’s conscience that disappeared into the grave. Sins are actually things that we commit, that is, do or say. They are not material things and what Christ bore on the cross was the punishment due to them rather than the wrongful acts themselves which may have actually taken place many years before Christ’s birth.
Someone might argue that Christ’s work was not finished as his blood was not shed until after He had died. However, this was shed as evidence that He really had died. The physical shedding of his blood was only testified to by John, though his blood was mentioned in the other Gospels on the occasion of the last supper. Christ was clearly passed suffering when his blood was shed. There was, I believe, a spiritual out pouring of Christ’s soul when He was on the cross as the prophet Isaiah says (Isaiah 53:10 & 12).
However, someone might say that if Christ’s atoning work was finished why was Christ not immediately raised instead of being put in a grave? The answer to this is that as there was three hours of darkness when Christ was on the cross as evidence that He was bearing sins then, it was necessary also that there should be three days when He was in the grave to demonstrate that He had really died and not merely swooned, and been resuscitated. There may well be other reasons for Christ’s burial, such as to show that Christ’s disciples were lacking in faith, and this it clearly did. They had not understood that Christ would die and then be raised though Christ had told them of what would happen to Him many times.
Burial is not actually a punishment. It was a very serious thing not to have a burial as it says in Ecclesiastes 6:3 “If a man... have no burial, I say an untimely birth is better than he”. Then there are the cases of Lucifer (Isaiah 14:19/20) and Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37) who were not buried. Contrast their cases with that of Christ who was with the rich in his death (Isaiah 53:9); the answer to which we find in John 19:38-42. Note also that pious men buried Stephen (Acts 8:2). For those who would like to pursue this matter I have considered it further in a book entitled “Dialogues on The Holy Spirit and on Separation” which can be had free by contacting me.
Death is a terminus as Scripture says: “Dust thou art; and unto dust shaltthou return” (Genesis 3:19) Man returns to the ground. This involves not only death but goes on to involve corruption. However, Christ we know did not see corruption (Acts 2:31). He was not resuscitated but was raised from the dead, and is a priest “according to power of indissoluble life” (Hebrews 7:16).
Burial is a distinct matter. Burial in the Scriptures begins with Abraham. He said that he wished to bury his dead from before him (Genesis 23:4). Naturally speaking we do not wish to see the bodies of our loved ones going into corruption so that we put their bodies out of sight. We have a funeral for this purpose and this involves more than just the actual burial but involves prayers and maybe hymns as well as other things such as a word from Scripture which would be a comfort to those that mourn the loss of a loved one. (Consider Acts 8:2 in the case of Stephen) People often speak of from cradle to grave and it is noticeable that Christ started similarly, being placed in, we may say, a makeshift cradle, that is, a manger. Similarly, after he had died he was placed in what could be said to be an unused borrowed tomb (Matthew 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:41/42). Note that in Matthew the tomb is said to be his, that is Joseph’s, new tomb.
One would note here that Scripture does not advocate the incinerating of the bodies of those that have died. In Amos 2:1-3 God condemns Moab for burning the bones of the king of Edom into lime. The body of Saul was burnt, but not his bones. These were buried (1 Samuel 31: 11-13).There is a booklet which can be obtained from the Kinston Bible Trust, 12 Wembley Gardens, Lancing, West Sussex BN15 9LX, England. It is titled “Burial or Cremation – Which?” and considers the subject from a Scriptural point of view.
Though Christ’s body was placed in a tomb his spirit was not there. He had committed his spirit into the hands of his Father (Luke 23:46). Further, He had told the repentant thief that he would be with Him in paradise, so from this we can conclude that Christ’s spirit was in paradise. I don’t think this was the paradise to which Paul was caught up as that was the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2), whereas this paradise was in the place of departed spirits, as Christ speaks of it in Luke 16. Abraham and Lazarus were not in the same place as the rich man, though we should not infer from this that they were in the third heaven. Peter quotes David as saying that his soul would not be leftin hades, that is, sheol (Acts 2:27). Rather, Christ was raised on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:4). He did not come down from heaven on the third day.
I do not propose entering here on what Peter says in his 1stepistle chapters three and four as this really needs a separate article. Mr. Darby in his Synopsis goes into the matter at some length. A writer in the IVF New Bible Commentary (not now so new!) says that verses 19-22 of chapter three “present numerous difficulties” so one would be loath to dogmatise as to the meaning of the passage, at any rate, without giving the passage and related ones serious consideration.
Passing on now to Christ’s ascension, we find that this did not take place immediately after his resurrection. Again, this was necessary that there might be a testimony that Christ was indeed risen from the dead. John tells us in his last chapter that Christ’s manifestation by the sea was already the third time he had been manifested to his disciples being risen from the dead (John 21:14). There was therefore adequate evidence of Christ’s resurrection. It was not only individuals to whom Christ was manifested, so sceptics cannot reasonably say that it was only individuals with fevered imaginations to whom Christ was manifested. Elsewhere we have it said that on one occasion Christ appeared to above 500 brethren at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). Christ was seen here on earth during 40 days before his ascension as recorded in Acts 1. This period also gave Christ the opportunity to speak to his disciples of things which concern the kingdom of God.
Lastly we have Christ’s ascension and glorification. This was attested to in his sending the Holy Spirit shortly afterwards. This effectively attested to the fact that Christ had not only gone into heaven but that He had been glorified. He sent the Holy Spirit as he said He would from the Father.(Luke 24:49). This was shortly after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:5). Peter spelt all this out in Acts 2 particularly verse 33. No doubt what Peter spoke of in his 1stepistle chapter 3 verse 22 took place in the interval.