As we approach Easter when as Christians we celebrate and commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is strange but true that to an increasing number of those who call themselves Christian, Christ’s resurrection is not to be taken literally. It has been described by a leading churchman from a different denomination as ‘a conjuring trick with bones’. One college textbook on the New Testament proclaims: “We need to keep in mind that the empty tomb was an ambiguous witness to the resurrection. It attests the absence of the body, but not necessarily the reality or presence of the risen Jesus.” Robert A. Spivey and D. Moody Smith, Anatomy of the New Testament: A Guide to Its Structure and Meaning (New York: Macmillan, 1989), p. 239
The apostle Paul pointed out that if we do not accept the resurrection of Christ we miss the whole point of the Gospel: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19). Without the atonement and resurrection of Christ there is no plan of salvation.
What do we mean by resurrection? As a missionary I used to explain it by using my hand and a glove with the hand representing the spirit and the glove the body. When we lived in the pre-existence we lived as spirits (the hand without the glove). When we come to this mortal life our spirit is clothed in a body (the hand in the glove). When we die, the body is laid in the grave but the spirit lives on (the hand is taken out of the glove). Resurrection is the reuniting of the spirit with the body in an immortal state, no longer subject to disease or death. (The hand is placed back in the glove forever.)
The scriptures give us examples of people who were raised from the dead – for example Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son at Nain but each of these was still eventually subject to death. The Saviour was the first person to be resurrected.
Right from the beginning of his ministry, the Lord tried to make it clear that he would die and then rise from the dead.
John 18:31¶ Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are awritten by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be amocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall arise again.
To us, looking back through history, this teaching may seem clear and unambiguous, yet Jesus’ disciples “understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (v. 34).
Luke 24:36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do athoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and did eat before them.
He was not a spirit
He had flesh and bones
He could eat.
The Bible tells us that Jesus provided “many infallible proofs” of his resurrection (see Acts 1:3), appearing to many during the forty days before his final ascension.
The doctrine of the resurrection is not just of academic interest – the Bible teaches us that everyone who has lived will be resurrected:
1 Corinthians 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Bruce R McConkie explained it this way: “As Adam is the father of mortality, so Christ is the father of immortality.” It was part of our Heavenly Father’s plan that death and mortality would come into the word through Adam and that immortality and eternal life would come to all through Jesus Christ.
From the Bible we also learn that there are two major resurrections: one for the just and one for the unjust:
John 5: 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
We also learn that we will be resurrected to a degree of glory that is consistent with our faithfulness:
1 Corinthians 15: 40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
Modern revelation gives us greater insight on this:
“But even within these two separate resurrections, there is an order in which the dead will come forth. Those being resurrected with celestial bodies, whose destiny is to inherit a celestial kingdom, will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection. …(D&C 88:99)
There is an afternoon of the first resurrection; which takes place after our Lord has ushered in the millennium. Those coming forth at that time do so with terrestrial bodies and are thus destined to inherit a terrestrial glory in eternity. (D. & C. 76:71–80.)
“At the end of the millennium, the second resurrection begins. In the forepart of this resurrection of the unjust those destined to come forth will be ‘the spirits of men who are to be judged, and are found under condemnation; And these are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.’ (D. & C. 88:100–101.) These are the ones who have earned telestial bodies (D. & C. 76:81–112.)
“Finally, in the latter end of the resurrection of damnation, the sons of perdition, those who ‘remain filthy still’ (D. & C. 88:102), shall come forth from their graves. (2 Ne. 9:14–16.)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 640).
BOOK OF MORMON
We can read of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the New Testament but we can get a greater depth of understanding about why the death and resurrection of Jesus are so important from the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is a second witness of Christ and in that role it testifies extensively of Christ’s atoning role and of the resurrection. The doctrine of the resurrection is taught by every major prophet in the Book of Mormon. The word resurrection occurs eighty-three times in the Book of Mormon, and the phrase “rise from the grave” or “rise from the dead” occurs at least twenty-six times.
An example of this is the teachings of the prophet Amulek:
Here Amulek teaches us that the spirit and the body will be reunited and that we will look like we look now. President Joseph F Smith expanded on this:
“What a glorious thought it is, to me at least, and it must be to all who have conceived of the truth or received it in their hearts, that those from whom we have to part here, we will meet again and see as they are. We will meet the same identical being that we associated with here in the flesh—not some other soul, some other being, or the same being in some other form, but the same identity and the same form and likeness, the same person we knew and were associated with in our mortal existence, even to the wounds in the flesh. Not that a person will always be marred by scars, wounds, deformities, defects or infirmities, for these will be removed in their course, in their proper time, according to the merciful providence of God. Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall attain to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 23).
Alma 11:44 Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.
I think that Elder Orson Pratt may have spent a little too long thinking about the restoration of the hair of his head (!):
‘Then again, we are in the habit of having our hair shingled. This custom is generally commenced in childhood, say three or four years old, and continued through life, and in the course of a year perhaps four or five inches of hair may be cut from the head and cast away. Now, in seventy-two years, if a man did not lose his hair altogether, he would perhaps cut off something like twenty-four feet of hair and beard. Can we suppose that in the resurrection we shall come forth with our hair and beard a rod long? I do not look for any such thing. When, therefore, we read in the Book of Mormon that every hair of the head shall be restored, I do not expect that the whole of the matter that has been incorporated in the hair or in the beard will be restored, but I look for a sufficient quantity of the material once existing in the hair and beard to be restored to make one appear comely, for the hair is an ornament.’
2 Nephi 9:16 And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.
Alma 11:45. Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.
Note that Amulek says the spirit and body will never be separated again. Resurrected beings cannot die again.
Robert J Matthews writes:
‘The question sometimes arises, Is Jesus the Savior of other worlds? The answer is yes. Did he suffer and die and become resurrected on those other worlds? The answer has to be no. If that had occurred anywhere else, it could not have occurred here. A resurrected being cannot be separated in his spirit and body, as this scripture teaches us, so if Jesus had been resurrected on an earlier world, he could not have been born on this world, nor could he have been crucified and resurrected again.’
As well as the Book of Mormon, we are also blessed to have modern revelation that imparts further knowledge about the resurrection. Those who have lost children in infancy find great comfort in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation that such children will inherit the Celestial Kingdom. Also of great comfort are President Joseph F Smith’s words about the status of deceased children in the resurrection:
‘Would we be satisfied to see the children we bury in their infancy remain as children only, throughout the countless ages of eternity? No! Neither would the spirits that did possess the tabernacles of our children be satisfied to remain in that condition. But we know our children will not be compelled to remain as a child in stature always, for it was revealed from God, the fountain of truth, through the prophet, in this dispensation, that in the resurrection of the dead the child that was buried in its infancy will come up in the form of the child that it was when it was laid down; then it will begin to develop. From the day of the resurrection, the body will develop until it reaches the full measure of the stature of its spirit, whether it be male or female.’(Teachings of Joseph F Smith Lesson manual p130)
We learned from the Bible that we will be resurrected to a degree of glory in line with our faithfulness. From the Book of Mormon we learned that we will look like we look now. From modern revelation we learn that our personal identity, our talents and our intelligence will rise with us in the resurrection:
D&C 130: 18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
Neal A Maxwell said:
‘If we ponder just what it is that will rise with us in the resurrection, it seems clear that our intelligence will rise with us, meaning not simply our IQ, but also our capacity to receive and apply truth. Our talents, attributes and skills will rise with us, certainly also our capacity to learn, our degree of self-discipline, and our capacity to work.’
President Joseph F Smith taught:
‘Christ rose and preserved his identity. So shall it be with you and with every son and daughter of Adam born into the world. You will not lose your identity ant more than Christ did.’
In the Book of Mormon we read that once resurrected the body and the spirit are inseparably joined together. In the doctrine and covenants we learn that a resurrected body is essential for a fulness of joy (see D&C 93:33–34);
D&C 93: 33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
34 And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.
We also learn from D&C 45:17 and 138:50 that spirits in the postmortal spirit world look upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a type of bondage.
What a blessing it is to be a Latter-day saint and to have wonderful truths revealed to us not only from the Bible but also from the Book of Mormon and other scriptures and from living prophets!
“I have stood at the tomb of Napoleon in Paris, at the tomb of Lenin in Moscow, and before the burial places of many others of the great leaders of the earth. In their time they commanded armies, they ruled with almost omnipotent power, their very words brought terror into the hearts of people. I have reverently walked through some of the great cemeteries of the world. I have reflected quietly and thoughtfully as I have stood in the military cemetery in Manila in the Philippines where are buried some 17,000 Americans who gave their lives in the Second World War and where are remembered another 35,000 who died in the terrible battles of the Pacific and whose remains were never found. I have walked with reverence through the British cemetery on the outskirts of Rangoon, Burma, and noted the names of hundreds of young men who came from the villages, towns, and great cities of the British Isles and gave their lives in hot and distant places. I have strolled through old cemeteries in Asia and Europe and yet other places and reflected on the lives of those who were once buoyant and happy, who were creative and distinguished, who gave much to the world in which they lived. They have all passed into the oblivion of the grave. All who have lived upon the earth before us are now gone. They have left all behind as they have stepped over the threshold of silent death. None has escaped. All have walked their way to “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns” (Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, lines 79–80). Shakespeare so described it.
But Jesus the Christ changed all that. Only a God could do what He did. He broke the bonds of death. He too had to die, but on the third day, following His burial, He rose from the grave, “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor 15:20) and in so doing brought the blessing of the Resurrection to every one of us.”