The following is an excerpt from the book “Experiencing the Resurrection.”
No one will argue that the resurrection didn’t cause some dramatic changes in the lives of Jesus’ followers. It’s undeniable.
One of those changes, which might not appear significant to many, is how the disciples changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. The Sabbath day was Saturday, the day God rested after six days of creation. Honoring the Sabbath was a part of Mosaic law, the fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8–10). And yet Sunday, rather than Saturday, became the Sabbath for the early church.
Jesus had already indicated His own authority over the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27–28). He centered the Sabbath on Himself, and by so doing He extended the Sabbath from just a Jewish practice to something experienced by the entire world—Gentiles included.
So when the Christians of the early church chose Sunday as their day for gathering to worship, the choice was centered on Christ’s resurrection and its universal message.
The biblical record for this change for the Sabbath is found in 1 Corinthians 16:2, where Paul gave instructions on gathering “on the first day of the week” in order to collect an offering, and in Acts 20:7, which mentions “the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.”
Whereas the Jews functioned under the Law, believers in Jesus now live in grace. Grace and truth came in the person of Jesus, and through His resurrection we now live this new life. Resurrection day, Sunday, is now the day of worship for those who have put their faith in Christ.
THE DISCIPLES’ ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
Perhaps the greatest change caused by the resurrection was in the character of the disciples. They had previously been timid, afraid, and depressed after witnessing the arrest and suffering of Jesus. But after His resurrection they became aggressive, bold, and full of joy.
Peter is a prime example. He was the one who had earlier denied the Lord to a lowly servant girl. But after the resurrection, he stood in the temple courts defying the very men who put Jesus on the cross (Acts 4:20).
When you observe the post-resurrection disciples, you see that they had life! Their circumstances didn’t matter. They had joy in the midst of suffering and peace in the midst of turmoil. Nothing could take away their passion arising from the everlasting life they’d received from Christ.
The disciples believed so much in the resurrection that they gave their lives to sharing the news. The first to die was James the brother of John, who was killed by the sword upon the order of King Herod (Acts 12:1–2). Church tradition holds that John miraculously survived being put into a cauldron of boiling water, then later was exiled to the island of Patmos; Peter was crucified in Rome upside down; Matthew was slain by a sword in a distant city in Ethiopia; James the son of Alphaeus was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple, then beaten to death with a blacksmith’s tool; Philip was hanged against a pillar at Hierapolis in Phrygia; Bartholomew was skinned alive; Andrew was bound to a cross — and preached to his persecutors until he died; Thomas was run through with a lance in the East Indies; Jude was shot to death with arrows; Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded; Mark died in Alexandria in Egypt after being cruelly dragged through the city.
Let me ask you: Would you have died for a lie? Would these disciples have endured such persecution for a dead man?
No. They saw the risen Lord—then gave their very lives in service to Him. They were no longer afraid of death because they’d found the true meaning of life. They were transformed, for they were living in resurrection life.
So we see ample historical evidence for the resurrection.
Earlier we mentioned a unique and rather unexpected approach to the resurrection that we find in Scripture. Let’s go back and explore it.
How did Peter explain the resurrection on the Day of Pentecost? He was a close disciple of Jesus, he had been there to witness the crucifixion, and he’d talked with Jesus after He rose from the dead.
But in his Pentecost sermon, Peter didn’t give such factual evidence. He didn’t say, “I know God raised Him up again because I saw Him.” Instead he declared, “I know God raised Him up because it was impossible for Him to be held in death’s grip.” This is recorded in Peter’s words in Acts 2:24, where Jesus is referred to as the One “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
Peter’s words present the first apostolic statement on the resurrection. Peter was declaring with absolute certainty, “God raised up Jesus—the man you nailed to a cross.”
Remember that Peter was speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus died. Many in that crowd had probably been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, which had happened there less than two months earlier. His execution had been a prominent event in the city, one that no doubt was a topic of discussion for a long time. Peter was addressing people keenly interested in what he was talking about.
In Peter’s words to them, the resurrection was just as much a fact of history as the crucifixion — a fact with immediate and powerful results. And the reason Peter declared the impossibility Peter gave for the resurrection is simply this: it wasn’t possible that Jesus could be held by death.
The world today says, “It’s impossible for Jesus to rise from the dead.” But Peter said, “It’s impossible for Jesus not to rise from the dead.”
How could Peter make such a statement? His argument is based not upon the kind of factual evidence we would think of, but upon two other points.
First, Peter bases it on the nature of biblical prophecy. In stating that it was impossible for death to hold Jesus, Peter noted that David spoke “concerning Him” (Acts 2:25). Christ’s resurrection had already been prophesied. And once God speaks, it is done. Jesus must rise again because God’s Word is always true; He cannot be wrong. Once the prophetic word is given, God’s nature is such that He cannot fail to fulfill it.
Peter quotes Psalm 16 and says that David was speaking of Christ when he said, “You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27).
Peter was whispering into the souls of the Jews standing before him, for Jews knew that once God spoke through a prophet, it was as good as done.
Of course, Christ’s resurrection was foretold not only by Old Testament prophets, but by the Lord Himself, as we’ve already seen: “Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21). Divine prophecy is a guarantee that death couldn’t hold Jesus in the grave.
There’s also another reason Peter could present the resurrection as fact. Peter was referring to the very meaning of life itself. He bases this argument on the nature of Christ. Because of who Christ is, it’s impossible that death could hold Him in the grave.
Peter was convinced that life was the nature of Jesus. Peter would later speak of Jesus as “the Holy One and the Just” and “the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14–15). Jesus is that Prince of life, and without Him, there is no life—not for anyone. It was impossible for Jesus to remain in death because He is life itself. He must burst forth from the grave or deny His very nature as the Prince of life.
Peter’s understanding of Christ’s nature is in keeping with what the other disciples had come to know. The apostle John, for example, opened his gospel by stating, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
Jesus Himself made this teaching very clear. He said to Mary and Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (11:25). And He said to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6).
Jesus said more about His “life” nature in these words:
For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth.” (5:26–29)
Jesus says that the Father—who “has life in Himself” — has also given to Jesus “life in Himself.” And this life isn’t something that anyone could ever take away from Him, for Jesus is life; He is self-existent over and above that which we call death. He lives forever because He is life and has become the source of life for all who believe in Him.
Earlier we warned of how Satan tries to keep us from seeing the truth. And God’s truth includes this: the only thing that damns us and keeps us from eternal life is unforgiven sin. Satan can tempt us, taunt us, and mock us with sin, but he cannot damn us. When Christ died for our sins and rose again, He took away the only thing that separates us from God—unforgiven sin. His resurrection proves that He is life, and it proves the genuineness of the eternal life He offers us if we come to Him for salvation.
And once we conclude that in Jesus’ eyes death is not primarily physical, then we also can conclude that life is not primarily physical. Resurrection to new life is not just a physical transaction. There’s a spiritual transaction that takes place, giving new life to the believer. And the power that raised Christ from the dead is the exact same power we experience as we walk in Christ, the giver of eternal life.
As the apostle Paul tells us, “If we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5).
That is the essence of salvation—new life in Christ Jesus.