Perseverance of the Believer

Dr. Craig Keener surveys the nature of ‘persevering in the faith’ from the Bible and corrects several false notions. I consider his treatment of this subject accurate and balanced. It is certainly easy to lose focus on Christ and resort to ‘self effort’, or to the other extreme of ‘false confidence.’

There are different definitions of once-saved-always-saved, and in this post I am challenging only one version. The point is not to make Christians nervous about their salvation; biblical writers assure Christians who have been persevering that they will persevere (Phil 1:5-7; Heb 6:9-10). The point is to recognize that apostasy is possible and that it happens sometimes.

If you have been a Christian very long, you probably know some who started with you in the faith who have since fallen away. I have known many who were zealous colleagues who no longer even claim to be Christians; some, in fact, claim to be something else.

Calvinists and Arminians may disagree on whether a person was provisionally converted or not, but they both agree that only those who persevere to the end will be saved. A Calvinist would say that someone who falls away was not genuinely converted to begin with (cf. John 6:64; 1 John 2:19)—that is, from the standpoint of ultimate salvation, which God already knows. An Arminian would say that, from the standpoint of human experience, which is what we can know, the person was provisionally converted but fell away and thus was not ultimately saved. But both agree that a person who turns away from faith in Christ and never returns is not ultimately saved. Both of these perspectives have biblical support, one from the standpoint of God’s foreknowledge and the other from the standpoint of human experience.

But “once-saved-always-saved” as it is commonly taught in many churches is neither Calvinism nor Arminianism. Many teach a cheap version of “Once-saved-always-saved,” wherein anyone who professes conversion remains in Christ no matter what happens. Let us say they become an atheist theologically, an axe-murderer morally, or even simply a spiritual couch potato that hasn’t thought about God for years. Are they still counted as believers in Christ? (Because this contorted hope seems to flourish particularly in some Baptist churches, I should note, lest you think I am picking on Baptists, that I’m a Baptist minister myself, albeit a charismatic evangelical one.)

Various texts warn that a person will be saved only if they persevere. Christ has reconciled you to present you to God, Paul warns, “if you continue in the faith” (Col 1:23). God cut off unbelieving branches and grafted you in, but if you do not continue in his kindness, you too may be cut off (Rom 11:22). (Paul speaks here of individual Gentiles, not of Gentiles as a whole, since in the context he did not believe that every individual Jewish person had been cut off.) The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2—3 repeatedly offer promises to those who overcome, conditioning the reward on perseverance. One must hold onto what one has, lest someone else take one’s crown (Rev 3:11), presumably the crown of life (2:10); those believers who overcome will not be blotted out of the book of life (3:5).

Jesus warned some who “believed” in him that they would become his disciples and know the truth if they continued in his teaching (John 8:30-32); they did not do so (8:59). In John’s Gospel, saving faith is faith that perseveres, not the faith of a fleeting moment. Jesus warns his own disciples to continue in him; if someone did not do so, they would be cast away and ultimately burned (15:5). (Fire was a familiar Jewish image for Gehenna, used also elsewhere in the Gospels.)

A wide array of texts warn that a person will be lost if they do not persevere. Because Galatian Christians were trying to be made right with God by keeping the law, Paul warned that they had been cut off from Christ and had fallen from grace (Gal 5:4); Paul was laboring again until Christ would be formed in them again (4:19). Paul even disciplined himself to ensure that he did not fail the test (1 Cor 9:27), but warned the Corinthians to check themselves to see whether they were failing it (2 Cor 13:5). Some of these references could be hyperbolic, dramatic ways of warning his hearers that they were on the verge of losing something they had not yet lost (cf. perhaps 2 Cor 5:20; 6:1, 17-18). Nevertheless, they hold out the terrifying possibility of apostasy.

This is especially emphasized in Hebrews. Punishment for turning from the way of salvation now is harsher than under the law (Heb 2:1-4). Those who turned from God in Moses’s time never entered God’s rest; how much more would that be true for those now who, hardened by sin, stopped believing Jesus Christ (3:7-15; 4:1, 11)!

Hebrews 6 warns particularly explicitly that those once converted could fall away. Being “enlightened” (6:4) refers to conversion (10:32); “tasting” the heavenly gift and future era (6:4-5) refers to experiencing it (the same Greek term applies to Jesus experiencing death in 2:9); being made “partakers of” or “sharing in” the Spirit (6:4) also refers to genuine believers (cf. the same Greek term in 3:1, 14). But if this person “falls away” (6:6; the language appears in the Greek version of the Old Testament for turning from God, e.g., Ezek 18:24; cf. different wording in Mark 4:17), they cannot be repent anew because they are crucifying Jesus again and publicly shaming him; they will be burned (Heb 6:8).

Because Christ is the only true sacrifice for sins (10:1-21), those who sin by continuing to resist him have nothing left but terrifying judgment (10:26-31). Those who turn back from faith face destruction (10:39). One should not be like Esau, who had no second chance (12:16-17). If those who rejected God’s message at Sinai were judged (12:18-21), how much greater is the judgment for rejecting the new covenant (12:22-29).

Some of the warnings in Hebrews sound as if those who fall away cannot be restored; yet many of us know some people who did fall away and yet were restored. This is explained in various possible ways (e.g., that their previous conversion experience was incomplete or that their apostasy was incomplete), but it is also possible that Hebrews is simply warning that there is no other way of salvation. If we leave Christ looking for something beyond him, we will not find it. James 5:19-20 sounds as if turning back to the way of Christ someone who strayed from it brings that person back to salvation and forgiveness.

Hebrews repeatedly exhorts its audience to hold fast our confidence in Christ (Heb 3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23); we must not abandon our confidence (10:35), which has the reward of eternal life (10:34-39). We have become Christ’s house, heirs of the future world, the author declares, if we continue to be believers in him (3:6, 14; 6:11-12); if we fail to persevere, we face judgment (2:2-3; 4:1; 8:9; 10:26, 38; 12:25).

To persevere in faith, we should continue to trust in Christ (Heb 3:19; 4:2; 10:35—11:1; on the topic of faith in Hebrews, see; support one another in the faith (3:13; 10:23-26); and grow more mature in biblical understanding (5:11—6:12). Similarly, 2 Peter advises various virtues that will keep one growing and prevent falling away and so missing the Lord’s eternal kingdom (2 Pet 1:5-11).

Many beliefs today are popular because they appeal to our weakness rather than because they are biblical. Such beliefs include spiritual justifications for materialism, theological exemptions from suffering tribulation, and even justifications for not sharing our faith with others. The idea that someone who professes conversion will share eternal life even if they do not persevere as believers in Christ is another belief that is comforting—and dangerously false.

For some people with less self-confidence (sometimes including myself), such warnings are unnerving. But biblical warnings are qualified for those who have already been demonstrating perseverance and the seriousness of their faith (Phil 1:6-7; Heb 6:9-10). (Still, even this assurance could be accompanied by exhortation to persevere, Heb 6:11-12.) It is important to remember that the keeping does not depend on us having infinite strength; it is God’s own power that preserves us through our faith (1 Pet 1:5), and no one can snatch us from his hand (John 10:29).

If overconfidence in ourselves is an error, so is underconfidence in the one who drew us to himself to begin with. Our baptism is meant as a helpful reminder that we passed from one realm to another; we do not pass away from Christ because some bad thought comes to our mind or we fail one spiritual test. The latter misconception is probably a recipe for spiritual obsessive compulsive anxiety! Falling away refers to someone who is no longer following Christ, not someone who is simply imperfect in our maturity or discipleship.

The warnings are instead for those tempted to fancy that we are saved by a single act of prayer or physical washing rather than by Christ, who treat salvation only as a cheap fire escape instead of rescue from being alienated from God. It is God’s act in his Son’s death and resurrection that saves us, provided that we accept his gift, i.e., believe this good news. His gift is eternal life in his presence, an eternal life that begins when we truly believe—welcoming a new life in Christ.

Contra Gnosticism

Here is Richard Klaus’ outline on the deficiency and error of Gnosticism:

Loving Truth and Resisting Error

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gospel of Thomas: Lecture Notes

Here is the outline I used today in class to cover the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas

  1. Nag Hammadi library
  1. Discovered in 1945
  1. Translated into English in 1977
  1. 13 leather bound books (codices)
  1. Manuscripts dated AD 350-380
  1. Written in Coptic (Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet)
  1. Oxyrhynchus
  1. Discovered in 1890’s
  1. Greek fragments: unknown at time of discovery what they were but with the discovery at Nag Hammadi it was realized that these Greek fragments were pieces of Thomas
  1. About 20% of Thomas in three papyri
  1. P. Oxy 654 = Thomas 1-7, part of 30
  1. P. Oxy 1 = Thomas 26-33

iii.     P. Oxy 655 = Thomas 24, 36-39, 77

  1. Manuscripts dated AD 200-300
  1. Two views on origins and translation
  1. Greek to Coptic
  1. Syriac to Greek; Syriac to Coptic
  1. Thomas and Gnosticism
  1. Not full-blown Gnosticism but definitely Gnostic elements[1]
  1. Definition of Gnosticism:
  1. Dualism: mixture of good and evil in creation and man; distinction between good transcendent unknowable God and God who created the world.“The knowable God who is a projection into the creation is the Creator, while the unknowable God is over everything but is too transcendent to be directly involved with the creation.  The true God and the Creator God of Genesis are not the same thing.”[2]
  1. Cosmogony: dualism in the creation itself; “anti-cosmic dualism” which rejects the physical material world as evil and inferior.[3]
  1. Soteriology: “Salvation and redemption are understood primarily in terms of knowledge about creation’s dualistic nature.Salvation of the nonmaterial spirit or soul within a person is what matters, not a salvation of the creation or of the flesh.  In fact, the flesh is not redeemable.  There is no resurrection of the body from the dead.”[4]
  1. Eschatology: “one understands where existence is headed, namely, the redemption of the soul and the recovery of the creation into the ‘fullness’ or ‘pleroma’ that is where good dwells.”[5]
  1. See especially verses 18, 29, 36-39, 50, 77, 83-84
  1. Thomas 1 and John 11.25-26
  1. Thomas 1: “And he said, ‘Whoever finds theinterpretation of these sayings will not taste death.’”
  1. John 11.25-26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’”
  1. “Now we can see how John’s message contrasts with that of Thomas.Thomas’s Jesus directs each disciple to discover the light within (‘within a person of light there is light’ [24]) but John’s Jesus declares instead that ‘I am the light of the world’ and that ‘whoever does not come to me walks in darkness’ [8.12].  In Thomas, Jesus reveals to the disciples that ‘you are from the kingdom, and to it you shall return’ and teaches them to say for themselves that ‘we come from the light’; but John’s Jesus speaks as the only one who comes ‘from above’ and so has rightful priority over everyone else: ‘You are from below; I am from above …. The one who comes from above is above all.’ [8.23; 3.31] Only Jesus is from God, and he alone offers access to God.  John never tires of repeating that one must believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and confess him alone as God’s onlyson.  We are not is ‘twin,’ much less (even potentially) his equal; we must follow him, believe in him, and revere him as God in person: thus John’s Jesus declares that ‘you will die in your sins, unless you believe that I am he’ [8.24].”[6]
  1. “At the same time, I was also exploring in my academic work the history of Christianity in the light of the Nag Hammadi discoveries, and this research helped clarify what I cannot love: the tendency to identify Christianity with a single, authorized set of beliefs—however these actually vary from church to church—coupled with the conviction that Christian belief alone offers access to God.”[7]
  1. Pagels is challenged spiritually by Thomas. For example, verse 70 reads: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’”  Pagels comments: “The strength of this saying is that it does not tell us what to believe but challenges us to discover what lies hidden within ourselves; and, with a shock of recognition, I realized that this perspective seemed to me self-evidently true.”[8]
  1. Contents of Thomas
  1. Missing Gospel elements in Thomas
  1. No narrative
  1. No passion/cross

iii.     No resurrection

  1. Non-eschatological (i.e., Thomas 18)
  1. No “Jewish-ness”: Jewish language and concepts are used but are give a different, non-Jewish understanding

“One of the most telling weaknesses in the whole Q-and-Thomas hypothesis, it seems to me, is the presence within Thomas of sayings about the ‘kingdom of god’, or, as the book regularly calls it, the kingdom of the Father [3, 22, 46, 49, 97, 113, 114].  From our earlier study of the Jewish evidence, it is unthinkable that this motif should be introduced into a community from scratch with the meaning that it comes to have inThomas, i.e. the present secret religious knowledge of a heavenly world.  It is overwhelmingly likely that the use of this emphatically Jewish kingdom-language originated with an overtly Jewish movement which used it in a sense close to it mainline one, i.e. which spoke of the end of exile, the restoration of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the return of YHWH to Zion, and so forth, however much these ideas were transformed within the ministry of Jesus and the lives of his first followers.  If there has been a shift in the usage one way or the other, it is far more likely to have been from this Jewish home base into a quasi-Gnostic sense, rather than from a Gnostic sense, for which there is no known, or imaginable precedent, to a re-Judaized one—a shift which, on the hypothesis, must have taken place somewhere between an early Thomasand a later Mark.”[9]

  1. Thomas doesn’t fit “gospel” message or genre

“When the early Christians picked up the term ‘gospel’, they had in mind the good news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of his teachings.  For example, the earliest Gospel, Mark, is mostly action—focusing on Jesus’ deeds.  It is doubtful that the earliest Christians would have seen a mere collection of teachings, without a recounting of Jesus’ saving activities, as a Gospel… On this account it’s doubtful that we should see the Gospel of Thomas, mostly a collection of teachings, as a Gospel.”[10]

  1. Dating the Gospel of Thomas
  1. Two views
  1. Early: 50-60 (Jesus Seminar)
  1. Late: 150-185 (majority of scholars)
  1. Arguments for late date
  1. Thomas knows many of the NT writings
  1. Thomas contains material from the Gospels that many scholars regard as late (i.e., M, L, John)

iii.     Thomas reflects later editing in the Gospel

  1. Thomas shows familiarity with traditions distinctive to Easter, Syrian Christianity that emerged in the middle of the 2nd century (i.e., name Judas Thomas)

“The attribution of the Gospel to ‘Didymus Judas Thomas’ (prologue) shows that it derives from the East Syrian Christian tradition, centered in Edessa.  It was only in this tradition (from which come also the Book of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas) that the apostle was known as Judas Thomas and regarded as a kind of spiritual twin-brother of Jesus.  Thomas was thought (perhaps correctly) to have been in some sense responsible for the founding of the church in this area, and it is probable that the oral Gospel traditions of this church were transmitted under the name of Thomas and that the Gospel of Thomas drew on these oral traditions. Its points of contact with other literature from this area and especially its probable use by the Acts of Thomas(end of second or early third century) confirms this hypothesis.”[11]

  1. Arguments for early date
  1. Form is like Q (collection of sayings without narrative) which is early
  1. Sayings in Thomas are more simple than parallels in canonical Gospels

Example: parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21.33-41; Mk 12.1-9; Lk 20.9-16; Thomas65)

iii.     Sayings in Thomas do not follow the order in Synoptic Gospels

  1. Answering the arguments for an early date
  1. “Form is like Q.”
  1. Q is a hypothetical construct; no manuscript evidence
  1. Q could have contained a narrative—who knows? Speculation abounds.
  1. “Simple sayings = early sayings.”

“Advocates of Thomas’ independence of the canonical Gospels often point to the abbreviated form that many of the parables and sayings have in Thomas.  One of the best known examples is the parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21:33-41; Mk 12:1-9; Lk 20:9-16; Gospel of Thomas 65).  In the opening verse of Mark’s version approximately eleven words are drawn from Isaiah 5:1-7 to form the backdrop of the parable.  Most of these words do not appear in Thomas.  Crossan takes this as an indication that the older form of the parable has been preserved in Thomas, not in Mark, which supposedly preserves an expanded, secondary version.  However, in Luke’s opening verse only two words from Isaiah 5 (“planted vineyard”) remain.  We have here a clear example of abbreviation of the tradition.  Other scholars have concluded that the version in Thomas is an edited and abridged form of Luke’s version of the parable.  The same possibility applies to the saying about the rejected stone (Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10-11; Lk 20:17; Gospel of Thomas 66).  Mark’s longer version quotes Psalm 118:22-23.  But Luke only quotes Psalm 118:22.  Once again Luke, who depends on Mark and is further removed from the original form of the tradition, has abbreviated the tradition.  The shorter form also appears in Thomas.  Thus, it is risky to draw firm conclusions relating to priority on the basis of which form of the tradition is the shortest and appears abbreviated.  It is thus possible that Gospel of Thomas 65 and 66 are neither separate logia nor derived from pre-Synoptic tradition, but constitute an edited version of Luke’s abbreviation of Mark’s parable.”[12]

  1. “Sayings in Thomas are not in the same order as Synoptic Gospels.”
  1. Gnostic writers of the 2nd century customarily arranged material around themes/catchwords
  1. We know of one place for certain where the Coptic writer changed the order from the “older” Greek version (P. Oxy 1) to organize it around catchwords.
  1. The saying on “splitting the wood” which in P. Oxy 1 is at the end of saying 30 becomes part of the 2nd half of saying 77 in the Coptic version.
  1. This creates a link-word between 77a+b; both halves of the spliced verse contain the Coptic verb meaning “attain” or “split”[13]

     [1] Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 66-67.

     [2] Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianites (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2006, 19.

     [3] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [4] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [5] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [6] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (New York: Vintage, 2003), 68-69.

     [7] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 29.

     [8] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 32.

     [9] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1992), 440-441—boldface added.

     [10] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 97.  Also see Simon Gathercole’s discussion—“ Jesus, the Apostolic Gospel and the Gospels”—summarized at Steve Walton’s blog online:

     [11] Richard J. Bauckham, “Gospels (Apocryphal)” in Joel B. Green, et al.,Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers, Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 287.

     [12] Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 71—boldface added.

     [13] See Glenn Miller’s online essay “What about the Gospel of Thomas?” for details and further bibliographic information.  Online:

A Fascinating Chronology

Humphreys and Waddington have cleared up several theological issues for me by the publication of their paper. Even though the published in 1992, the work was unknown to me until today. I think they are probably correct in their dating chronology of Christ and the references to His crucifixion. The blood moon rising just after the start of The Passover fulfilled Joel’s prophecy which Peter quoted fifty days later at Pentecost. This, to me, makes the most sense of Peter’s speech.

Another point also which I realized from this paper was the aspect of Christ being the “First fruits.” During Passover three “observances” are fulfilled: Passover, waving the first fruits of barley harvest, and seven days of eating bread without yeast (dough starter). Waving the barley sheaves of first fruits occurs the day after Passover (Nissan 16) which coincided with the Sunday upon which Jesus rose from the dead.

Also, the apparent conflict between the Synoptic Gospels and John has been resolved concerning the timing of Jesus’ death. It is now evident to me that the Last Supper was not a “Passover” observance since nowhere a lamb is mentioned.

Here is the summary:

Astronomical calculations have been used to reconstruct the Jewish calendar in the first century AD and to date a lunar eclipse that biblical and other references suggest followed the Crucifixion. The evidence points to Friday 3 April AD 33 as the date of the Crucifixion. This was Nisan 14 in the official Jewish calendar, thus Christ died at precisely the time when the Passover lambs were slain. The date 3 April AD 33 is consistent with the evidence for the start of Jesus’ ministry, with the gospel reference to 46 years to build the temple and with the symbolism of Christ as our Passover lamb. The mention of a solar eclipse at the Crucifixion in some texts of Luke is discussed and explained. A new chronology of the life of Christ is suggested.

Click to access tynbull_1992_43_2_06_humphreys_datechristscrucifixion.pdf

He is Risen!

Here is Dr. Richard Ganz telling us the truth from the scriptures:

There is no doubt that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is, along with the cross, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. In fact, the resurrection is mentioned 42 times in the New Testament, and Jesus’ own words are clear. For example, we read in Matthew 16:21 that “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and raised again the third day.” And in Matthew 17:9 when He was coming down from the mount of transfiguration, Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone about what you have seen until I have been raised from the dead.”

This was a repeated message of Jesus to His people: “I will be raised from the dead on the third day.” And while the disciples dismissed it and forgot it, Jesus’ enemies never did. In fact, one of the first things that they did after the crucifixion was to give an order to have the tomb made secure and closely guarded. Why? Because, they said in Matthew 27:63: “When this liar was alive, He said He would rise again.” No, Jesus’ enemies didn’t forget. Jesus was dead, but they knew what Jesus had said, and they didn’t want Him rising from the dead, nor did they want anyone stealing His body so that it might be made to appear that had Jesus risen from the dead; and so they took serious measures to prevent both of these things from happening.

But, as seriously as Jesus’ enemies took Him, there isn’t even a hint that this was what Jesus’ own disciples expected or even thought. They weren’t looking out for Jesus’ resurrection, and they certainly weren’t considering stealing his body and trying to stage a resurrection. They were in fear and despair over Jesus’ death. They thought it was all over, and they were in fear of repercussions of Jesus’ death falling on them because of their past association with Jesus. They were like that atheist who concluded: “If someone is dead, he is dead, and nothing can bring him back to life, no matter how appealing the idea may be.” We read that several of Jesus’ closest disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses, Salome, other of the women, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, all went to the tomb; but there isn’t even a hint that their discussion included any idea that Jesus would EVER be anything other than absolutely, positively, and unalterably, DEAD!

The world did its best to make the death of Jesus sure, which I find amazing. They were so threatened by the death of Jesus, that even during the few days of His actually being in a burial tomb, all that they really wanted to do was to make sure that the ONE THING THAT JESUS WOULDN’T DO was to fulfill His word and rise from the dead! So they have the world’s best army secure His tomb, sealing the tomb with a huge stone that closed it securely, and then setting a Roman guard to vigilantly watch that tomb round the clock. The WORLD’S MOST RELIGOUS MEN, the religious leaders of Israel, have an absolutely atheistic mindset as well. They don’t believe Jesus’ words, they don’t believe that Jesus will rise, but also they don’t relax just because Jesus is dead. They take no chances. Theirs is not the mind that says, “Since Jesus is dead, now we have nothing to be concerned about.” Instead, they secure the tomb and have Roman guards put there to keep away any who would snatch the dead body of Jesus. These Jewish leaders knew that Jesus had predicted His own resurrection on the third day. They were confident His body would not be able to be stolen; and they were comfortable that Roman soldiers could prevent any possible resurrection from happening, and that is why when Jesus, in one of His confrontations with the religious leaders, rebuked these leaders in this way: “You know not the Scriptures or the power of God.”

So, even with the Scriptures and Jesus Himself predicting it, no one was looking for Jesus’ resurrection. And then, three days later, on the first day of the week, that is, on Sunday, while it was still dark, we read that these brave women went to the tomb; but they went to anoint the body of Jesus, not to meet the risen Jesus. But Jesus no longer needed anointing, and there was no power on earth that was then, or would EVER be capable of keeping Jesus locked into that tomb and dead in the grave.

The fears of the Jewish leaders that the disciples would steal His body and perpetrate a wicked deception was groundless, because the power of God had been at work, a power greater than any they had ever considered, or even imagine; a power which no man can stand against. And when the women get to the tomb, they see that the fierce Roman guards, trained to stand against anything, have fled in terror and that the tomb is empty. John’s account focuses in on Mary Magdalene and says that she ran back and got Peter and John as soon as she saw that the stone had been removed, and after they got to the tomb, they still didn’t get it. We read that: “They STILL did not understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

So what did they do? They then returned to their homes, but Mary stayed, weeping as she looked into an empty tomb, but still not understanding. And then she had a discussion with someone she assumed to be the gardener, who asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” She responds, “If you carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him.” We read that Jesus said to her, “Mary”, and hearing His voice, she recognizes that it is Jesus, risen and alive, who is in front of her speaking to her, and she calls Him “Rabbi”. Jesus then told her to tell the brethren that He had risen. Mary was presented with the most incredible commission EVER GIVEN to anyone, in the entire history of the New Covenant church from then until now, because Mary was commissioned to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and of His soon-to-be ascension and return to the Father.

Friends, Jesus’ disciples weren’t looking for His resurrection. The reality of the resurrection of Jesus was only accepted after each person had evidenced it for Himself. They had to see it with their own eyes before they believed. This was not some plot of the early church to make the Christian faith palatable. In fact, there is no way that they could have convinced anyone else of it, for they couldn’t even convince themselves, and they knew it well. In order to continue to follow Jesus, and even give their lives for Jesus, they needed to actually see that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, and that although He was dead, now He is alive.

Our Lord Jesus went to the cross to fight death, and was battered by hell and by the wrath of God, but He came out of the tomb, and He emerged in glory as the conqueror. And now we, we who have been slaves to sin and have feared death and hell, can cry out: “O grave, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?” And Jesus told us in John 14:19: “Because I live, you also shall live.” This, friends, is the victory of Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection in Him!