Risen, Just As He Said


I. The empty Tomb

A. The First Day – This is the foundation for Christian worship on the first day of the week.

  1. Notice the mention again of this in John 20:1 and its reiteration in 20:19. Another first day appearance occurs in John 20:26
  2. Apparently, Paul expected all the churches to meet for worship on the first day – 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2
  3. John received his messages to the churches when in the Spirit on “The Lord’s Day.” 1:10 – Even in exile John set aside this day for particular exercises of worship and while isolated became a pastor and preacher to all churches throughout the world, throughout the ages, until the Lord comes.  On this day of the week he first saw the resurrected Lord and as he appears to him now, he calls himself the one who lives and was dead; “and behold I am alive for evermore” (Revelation 1:18).
  4. Theologically, this constitutes the completion of redemption and the inauguration of the new creation which will culminate in the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is the day subsequent to the completion of the work of redemption and the beginning of his work of continual intercession for us. So the Sabbath of the nation Israel was commemorated because it was the day after the completion of creation and the beginning of his sustaining the created order by the word of his power. The first Sabbath shadowed the rest that would come in the gospel—the rest from our own works for Christ’s work has done all that can be done for redemption. The Lord’s Day, therefore, is the testimony to our confidence in the satisfaction that Christ has made to the Father’s wrath against sin and his fulfillment of the righteous requirements of the Law, so that “whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” To observe this first day is a testimony to having entered in to Christ’s perfected righteousness and still foreshadows the rest of eternal life that yet remains for the people of God [Hebrews 4:9, 10].


B. The Work of the Angel cf. 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:4

  1. He rolled the stone away with a great display of power (2). – The earthquake occurred because of the angel’s action. “There was an earthquake, for an angel of the Lord had descended.” The angel  descended, then came, then rolled back the stone, and then sat.
  2. The angel overwhelmed the guards with his glory (3, 4). “They became as mere dead men,” so overwhelmed with helplessness that they could not move.
  • Angels always strike fear into those who see them. The combination of lightning [how brilliant is lightning?!] and whiteness shows the difficulty, often seen in Scripture, of describing things that form part of the environment in which the glory of God dominates. Think of the face of Moses when he came from his time with God and had received the tablets (Exodus 34:29 ff). This is the first time angels are said to appear in white [afterwards. Acts 1:10, 10:30] They do not appear as the cute cherubs that adorn the hearth, the bookshelf, and the mantle.  They have come directly from the throne of God and have a specific mission.  They don’t linger around and engage in light banter, or amuse those to whom they are sent like a litter of two-week old puppies, but they finish their assignment with forthrightness and authority.  If these beings are so glorious [Revelation 18:1] and yet cover their faces [Isaiah 6:2] before the holy glory of God, what must the glory of God be like?
  • On two occasions, the apostle John was so overwhelmed with the appearance of an angel that he bowed in worship. In Revelation 19:10, the angel responded, “You must not do that. I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” John then commented, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” In 22:8 the angels responded in a similar way, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” The prophets to whom the angel referred were the New Testament prophets, those who “held the testimony of Jesus” in the churches until the completion of this testimony. That completion was to occur at the end of the next 13 verses of Revelation 22. The angel, the apostle, and the Lord Jesus complete the prophetic word. The last of the apostles dies, the prophetic utterance in the churches resolves into Scripture, and angels do their work without observation.
  1. The angel delivered his message (5-7).
  • He knows their intention – His knowledge of their purpose was supposed to quiet their immediate fears. This event probably is the historical background for the first three assertions of the Confession in 1 Timothy 3:16 – “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels.” This entire series of events constituted the staggering condescension of the Son of God “into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).
  • He leaves them in no doubt as to why the tomb is empty – No one has stolen the body; he has risen from the dead. The chronology of this event must be developed in the context of John 20:1-18.
  • He reminds them that this is in accord with what he has said – Matthew 16:21; 17:9, 23; 20:17-19 – The elect angels [1 Timothy 5:21] those who kept their estate of being servants of God, serve him day and night and have nothing that gives them more joy and more fulfills their very reason for being than to highlight the redemptive activity of the Son. They themselves marvel at these things and long for fuller grasp of the grace of God shown toward sinners in this astonishing work of substitution.
  • He commissions them to tell the disciples that Christ is risen and is going ahead of them into Galilee where they will see him. It is there that he will tell the disciples about their preaching mission; as he ascends the angels again tell of the next epochal event of redemption (Acts 1:10, 11).
  • He indicates the completion of that he has been sent to do. “Behold I have told you.” So faithfully should his messengers today say everything that he has told us to say. We should do this neither adding nor subtracting from the revealed message.


II. An Appearance of the Resurrected Christ (8-10)

A. Other Appearances – Mark 16:9-20 in disputed texts; Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “other women” in Luke 24:1-10; two men on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-15; Simon Luke 24:34, and the 11 with these 2 Emmaus road travelers, Luke 24:36; in John 20, Mary Magdalene, disciples without Thomas, disciples with Thomas, disciples by the sea of Tiberias. cf. Paul, Acts 9:4-6; 13:31;1 Corinthians 15:5-9; Acts 1:3 calls these “many convincing proofs, over a period of forty days”

B. The first worship of the Resurrected Christ is in 28:9; See also verse 17 – also John 20:16, 17, 28; Christian worship is specifically christocentric.  When the women and the disciples worshipped Jesus, this was no violation of the second commandment. Nor were the Father and the Holy Spirit offended by this. Instead only such worship can draw us into a full experience of the Trinity.  We can not know and love the Father except through the Son and we do not receive the Spirit apart from the Son. Look at Galatians 4:4-7.

C. Message to the Brethren –The title “brethren” is filled with grace. They were servants, disciples, then friends, then brethren.  And this, after having forsaken him and fled. The disciples, brethren, future apostles, are now tested to believe the announcement of witnesses, and women witnesses at that.  They will be called on to do this very thing and expect their hearers to believe them [see Acts 1:21, 22; 2:24, 32].  Peter would know the immediate difficulty of giving credit to such a report.  The call to believe the resurrection, however, is not merely a call to give credit to an anecdote.  This event is connected with a body of promises and a series of spiritual necessities which only it can effect.


III. The Attempted Cover-up (cf. 12:22-29 and Luke 16:31)

A. Report of the Guards (11)

B. Bribe, lie, multiplied deception (12-14) – On investigation, a lie doesn’t convince – “The disciples stole the body while we slept.”  Really!  This is precisely what they had asked Pilate to help them provide against [Matthew 27:62-66].  Their actions to secure the grave only make their lie less believable and the resurrection more strongly confirmed.  Broadus says, “The statement is absurd on its face, for if asleep they did not know it, and if one of them knew, he could have awakened the others.  It also confesses on their part a criminal breach of discipline.”  Of course this breach of discipline was exactly the thing that the Jews promised to deal with the governor about should the news reach his ears.

C. Love of Money – “They took the money and did as they were directed.” They knew the most astounding truth possible, but were willing to sell it, and their souls as part of the package. Love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Money was used to prompt Judas to betray innocent blood.


IV. Application

A. An angel appeared in Gethsemane to strengthen, and, as before and at his birth, at the tomb to announce; no angel appeared at Calvary. For current fascination with angels, one should read Hebrews 1:4-14; any emphasis on angels disconnected from the redemptive work of Christ is idolatrous.

B. The resurrection happened as Jesus said it would on a number of occasions, sealing his word as prophet and establishing him as the ever-living great high priest, and the King who initiates peace with sinners and crushes his enemies. For place of resurrection with His Sonship, see Romans 1:3, 4.  Hebrews 1:5-13 and Acts 13:33-36 where the order is true Sonship (33), promises of the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant necessarily done only in the eternal Son of God who in his incarnation also was the son of David (34), all of which were finally established by resurrection (35f).  Some have taught that the title Son of God comes only as a result of the resurrection.  The title, however, is the nomenclature of an essential reality.  Jesus consistently refers to Himself as the Son during his earthly ministry and to the One to whom he was obedient as The Father, or as His Father.  Neither is this taken as a reference to the supernatural aspect of his human conception but as reflecting an eternal and essential unity [John 5:17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26]  John 3:16 means that God sent One who already shared the relationship of Son and eternally relates to Him as Son [John 1:14, 18]  The use of Psalm 2 in Hebrews and Acts 13 “Thou art my Son” etc. shows that the only one capable of carrying out the redemptive work and be enthroned as worthy of worship is one that already by nature shares the Father’s glory.  The Hebrews passage gives something of a chronological progression of the glory of the Son in his superiority to angels; his eternal Sonship [5], his incarnation [6], his enthronement as the consequence of a perfected redemptive work [8, 9], his bringing to consummation the present order (his own creation) for a new order (a new creation fit for the habitation of his new creatures) [10-12], the final subjection of his enemies [13].  The resurrection, therefore, does not bestow on Jesus the title of Son, but “declares” his Sonship, both from the standpoint of his personal natural worthiness for the work completed and the consequent enthronement as sovereign, redeemer, ruler, judge.

C. The credibility of the resurrection does not suffer from lack of evidence, but moral preferences make people resist it. Affirming the resurrection, embraces all that Jesus said about the reasons for and the effects of his death [ransom, necessity for forgiveness, removal of the wrath of God] Salvation incorporates the substance of what it means to “Believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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