At the dawn of each Easter Day, Christian people everywhere join in singing joyous hymns which proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is always a season of rejoicing! The darkness and gloom of Good Friday give place to the brightness and joy of the Resurrection Day. And the student of the New Testament, no matter what season may be indicated on the calendar, will also enter into joyous Easter experiences when, after contemplating the Cross, he turns to the story of the Resurrection.
"Christ the Lord is risen today,
Sons of men and angels say:
Raise your joys and triumphs high,
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply,
However, before entering upon a detailed study of the various happenings which will be discussed in this lesson, it will be well to recognize the close relationship between the Cross and the Resurrection. These should not be thought of as separate events, but rather as integral parts of one great whole. The Cross may be regarded as symbolizing the negative, or denial, phase of the story; while the positive, or affirmative, phase is shown in the Resurrection. The Cross marks the overcoming of all those beliefs and influences which tend to mar and spoil life—such as bondage, evil, sin, and death; while the Resurrection demonstrates victory over all these, and reveals the perfect pattern of the life abundant and eternal. This relationship should be kept well in mind when studying the following phases of the Easter story:
John 20:1-18; Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12
1. Easter Morning.
The resurrection story is told in all four Gospels. Each account should be carefully read, and the details compared. John's Gospel gives the clearest picture of the momentous happenings at the garden tomb on Easter morning, and special consideration should be given to the following significant features:
(1) Mary's purpose in visiting the tomb: John's Gospel makes it clear that Mary did not go forth on Easter morning to greet the risen Lord. Her purpose was to perform those last loving rites connected with the entombment, which had not been completed following the Crucifixion. It will be recalled that the body of Jesus had been hurriedly taken from the Cross and deposited in the tomb because of the approaching Sabbath Day; for nothing could be done after six o'clock on Friday evening. (See Luke 23:54 and John 19:40-42.) But just as soon as the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb "on the first day of the week ... early, while it was yet dark." This is an indication of Mary's desire to complete the necessary arrangements at the earliest possible moment. However, she was unable to carry out her cherished plans, for she was distressed to find that the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb. The stone had been removed from the entrance, and the hurriedly-deposited body had vanished.
(2) The activities of Peter and John: The Gospel tells how Mary hurried to the house where the two disciples had taken refuge, and in a distracted way told them of her startling discovery. Peter and John thereupon hurried to the tomb—with John, the younger man, outrunning Peter. At the entrance of the tomb John came to a sudden halt, apparently becoming fearful of ceremonial contamination, and he waited the arrival of Peter. But Peter seems to have had no similar qualms, for he went into the tomb, and was followed by John. The Gospel states that the two disciples "saw and believed" (John 20:8) —but the context indicates that this has no reference to belief in the Resurrection. The two disciples saw that the tomb was empty, and they believed what Mary had told them, viz: that someone had removed the body of Jesus. The importance of this will be discussed later.
(3) Mary and the "Gardener": Again, it should be noted that at that time Mary's great concern was regarding the disappearance of the body of her beloved Master. Her question to the "Gardener" indicated how great was her desire to complete the burial rites. Only when the "Gardener" replied, speaking her name in those well-remembered tones—"Mary!" —did she enter upon her first realization of the Resurrection.
Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35
2. Easter Evening.
(a) The Journey to Emmaus:
The brief reference in Mark's Gospel, telling of the two disciples meeting the risen Lord "as they walked, on their way into the country," is expanded into a very interesting and detailed story in Luke's Gospel. Very little is known about these two travelers, since one is unnamed, while the other is briefly referred to as "Cleopas." Certainly, they were not members of the innermost group ("the Twelve"), but there are some indications that Cleopas was related to the family of Jesus; hence he would have been familiar with the recent happenings at Jerusalem and the tragedy of the Cross. Some additional light is thrown on the story through the metaphysical interpretation of the name Cleopas.
"A faculty of mind not yet awakened fully to spiritual understanding. It has heard the Truth: Cleopas was a follower of Jesus; he had walked and talked with Him, but he had never affirmed as his own the Truth that Jesus taught. Through the blessing and breaking of bread his eyes were opened— his comprehension was cleared—and he realized the Truth as his own" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 153).
We may be inclined to ask why the two travelers did not recognize Jesus. It must be recalled that this was not merely a casual meeting. Jesus was with them for several hours, and He talked freely with them. Why, then, was there this lack of recognition? The Gospel writer seems to have anticipated this question, for he explains that "their eyes were holden that they should not know him" (Luke 24:16). But two other things should be taken into consideration: (1) Possible difference in Jesus' clothing. It will be recalled that Jesus' garments had been stripped from Him at the time of the Crucifixion, so He might now be appearing in unfamiliar clothing; and this might have prevented ready recognition. (2) The two men knew that Jesus had been crucified, and had been taken from the Cross, and buried. Therefore, under such circumstances, the thought of meeting Him on the Emmaus road would be furthest from their minds.
The intriguing feature of this story is found in the closing statement, which reads, "He was known of them in the breaking of bread" (Luke 24:35). This could scarcely have reference to the previous breaking of bread in the upper room on the night before the Crucifixion—since at that time the story of the Lord's Supper would not have been communicated to the two travelers. It seems much more likely that Jesus used the same form of table blessing at Emmaus that He had used many times before during His ministry (see Matt. 14:19, Mark 8:6), and that it was because of this repetition that Jesus became known to them. There is also the further possibility that in giving the blessing at Emmaus, Jesus raised His hands, disclosing the nail prints still visible there, and thus revealing His identity. The two travelers asked, "Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way?" Perhaps on the journey they had partly recognized the familiar voice; but when they sat at table and saw the nail prints in His hands, they knew then that they were in the presence of the risen Lord.
(b) In the Upper Room.
Several important points should be noted here:
(1) Jesus' appearance in the upper room: Apparently, Mary Magdalene's story regarding the risen Lord had been communicated to the disciples, and they had hurriedly gathered in the upper room, hoping to receive some confirmation of the startling news. This confirmation came with the personal appearance of Jesus Himself—and the Gospel writer states that the disciples "were glad when they saw the Lord." John also mentions that the doors of the room were shut and, presumably, securely fastened. Nevertheless, Jesus entered the room and stood there with His disciples. However, Luke reports that at approximately the same time Jesus was talking with the two travelers at Emmaus—as discussed earlier in this lesson. These two happenings would therefore seem to indicate that the risen Lord had entered upon a new dimensional experience, since He was then transcending the limitations of space and time.
(2) The spiritual baptism: Scripture states that when Jesus met His disciples in the upper room, "He breathed on them, and saith ... Receive ye the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). This happening should be associated with a statement of John the Baptist, when he said: "I indeed baptize you in water ... but he ... shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 3:11). It is significant that Jesus, during His early ministry, did not concern Himself overmuch with the outer ceremony of baptism. (See John 4:2.) But at the time now being discussed, Jesus is seen administering spiritual baptism to His disciples. Sometimes students are puzzled regarding the statement, "He breathed on tbem." This should be compared with Gen. 2:7, which reads: "And Jehovah God formed man ... and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." The Genesis account tells of the first, or physical, creation; but the breathing activity mentioned in John's Gospel symbolizes the new, or spiritual, creation.
(3) The second upper-room meeting: The scriptural account states that "after eight days" the disciples again met in the upper room, and Jesus also appeared to them at that time. It should be noted that, according to the Jewish custom of numbering, both "first days" would be included in this reckoning. Thus, the first upper-room meeting was held on Easter evening (Sunday), while the second meeting was on the Sunday (or first day) of the following week. The question may be asked: Why did the disciples reassemble in the upper room on this second "first day"? There are several possibilities: (a) When meeting with the disciples on Easter evening, Jesus may have instructed them to meet again on the following week; (b) The disciples may have been so impressed with the events of Easter that they decided to meet again on the following "first day"; (c) It is significant that quite early in Christian history, the followers of Jesus met regularly on the first day of the week, and they referred to this as "the Lord's Day." (See Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10.)
(4) Activities of Thomas: The term doubter is frequently applied to the Apostle Thomas, and this originated in Thomas' unwillingness to accept the testimony of his fellow apostles concerning the appearance of Jesus. Taking all circumstances into consideration, his attitude is understandable. After seeing the lifeless body of Jesus taken from the Cross and laid in the tomb, who could have believed the story of Jesus' appearance in the upper room? The student of the New Testament should give very careful attention to Thomas' second statement— words uttered when Jesus appeared and spoke to him. At that time Thomas not only accepted the truth of the Resurrection, but he also cried, "My Lord, and my God!" Here, it should be noted, Thomas was openly proclaiming the divinity of Jesus Christ. Present-day readers of the New Testament are familiar with Thomas' statement and therefore may not recognize its full significance. At the time of utterance, however, such a statement could have brought upon Thomas the charge of blasphemy —and this was punishable by death. Perhaps the time has now come when the name of Thomas should be removed from the "doubter" category, and placed where it really belongs—among the names of brave men! Some further noteworthy statements by Thomas are given in John 11:16 and John 14:5-7.
(5) Metaphysical significance: The historical background given above indicates why, in metaphysical interpretation, Thomas is used as a symbol for "understanding." There are two phases of understanding, and both are easily recognized in the words and actions of Thomas: (a) Intellectual understanding—arrived at by intellectual processes. It will be noted that Thomas desired to have "proofs" to substantiate belief, (b) Spiritual understanding— attained through illumination. When Thomas finally attained this illumination, he had no need to "see" or "touch"—he knew! Jesus referred to these two phases of understanding when He said, "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, yet have believed" (John 20:29).
Matt. 28:11-15; I Cor. 15:12-19
3. Proofs of Resurrection.
All four Gospels present the story of Jesus' resurrection, and this important phase of His ministry is recognized by Christian people everywhere. Year after year the happenings of tbe first Easter morning are gladly recalled, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a firmly established fact in history. Nevertheless, the student of the New Testament should be aware that in the early days there were some persons who challenged the story of the Resurrection. The Jewish leaders not only refused to recognize Jesus as Messiah, but they also sought to explain away His resurrection. Some activities in this connection are indicated in the New Testament passages given above. Therefore, it may be well for the student to consider carefully some substantiating facts connected with the Resurrection:
(1) The testimony of the Apostles: The Gospels make clear that at first the Apostles, and other followers of Jesus, were prepared to accept the crucifixion and burial as final. True, during His ministry Jesus had mentioned the resurrection; but, apparently, all such teaching had been driven from the minds of His followers by the tragic happenings of Good Friday. Mary went to the tomb early on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus, not to greet the risen Lord. Peter and John believed that the body of Jesus had been taken from the tomb and buried elsewhere. Thomas refused to believe that there had been a resurrection. Yet all these, and many more, were eventually convinced. This was more than an out-picturing of "wishful thinking." This was an acceptance of a demonstration which they had heretofore deemed impossible. They were "convinced against their will," but they were not "of the same opinion still"! They who had not at first believed testified that Jesus was risen indeed.
(2) The extra testimony: When reading the gospel accounts of the Resurrection, we are likely to suppose that all these stories originated with persons very close to Jesus. The tendency, therefore, may be to regard such testimony as somewhat biased. But the Apostle Paul states that shortly after the Resurrection the risen Lord was seen by "above five hundred brethren"—and this in addition to the persons closely associated with Jesus. (See I Cor. 15:6.) A dozen disciples might have been biased or mistaken; but the testimony of five hundred persons surely demands serious recognition.
(3) The gospel records: It is important to recognize that the Synoptic Gospels were in circulation as early as A.D. 65-75. This means that at that time there would have been many persons living who could remember the actual happenings connected with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Thus, had the gospel stories of the Resurrection been inaccurate, they would have been refuted and would soon have become nonexistent. Under such circumstances, the survival of the Resurrection stories must therefore be regarded as proof of their authenticity.
(4) The changed attitude of the Apostles: Immediately following the arrest of Jesus, all His followers fled in terror and went into hiding. Peter actually declared vehemently that he had no connection with Jesus. But immediately following the Resurrection the Apostles reappeared and began to move about Jerusalem, not fearing what the authorities might do to them. Indeed, at quite an early period, Peter proclaimed the Resurrection in an area adjacent to the spot where Jesus had been condemned to death. The Apostles were changed men. Nor were these changes brought about by any "cunningly devised fables." Such transformations can be accounted for only through the reality of the Resurrection.
(5) Extension of the teaching: It should be further noted that, in addition to the Gospels, the Resurrection teaching has a prominent place in the Epistles of the New Testament. This indicates that the Resurrection was fully recognized throughout the Early Church. Indeed, the Resurrection formed one of the basic teachings of the Early Church. Early Christians thought not of a dead hero, but of the risen Christ; apart from the Resurrection, there would have been no Christian church. Thus, the very existence of the Christian church constitutes a very important piece of evidence as to the reality of the Resurrection.
4. Interpretation of the Resurrection.
When studying the life and activities of Jesus, many persons regard His resurrection as the high point in His ministry. Certainly, Jesus' victory over death and the grave must be recognized as an outstanding achievement. The stupendous happenings of the first Easter morning marked the beginning of a new era in the history of mankind, and Christian people everywhere continue to commemorate and rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But when attempting to understand present-day teaching regarding the Resurrection, the student may encounter two seemingly different lines of thought:
(1) There are some persons who, while accepting the Resurrection as a historical fact, regard it as applying exclusively to Jesus Christ. They believe that the Resurrection was the crowning point of Jesus' ministry; that it was a convincing demonstration of His divinity; and that the events of Easter morning proclaimed to the world that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. They are willing to recognize that the Resurrection has been an inspiration to all followers of Jesus, both in ancient and present times; but they also hold that the actual Resurrection had its beginning and ending in Jesus Himself.
(2) There are other persons who believe that Jesus' resurrection was a "firstfruits of them that are asleep" (I Cor. 15:20). They see in Jesus' resurrection a representation of something which is to take place in our experience—"For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). Thus, Jesus was the Way-Shower; and just as He died and rose again, so also may we look toward a resurrection in our experience. Thus far the teaching is clear. But the question arises: When does our resurrection take place? We can date the resurrection of Jesus as being on the first Easter morning; but when shall we experience a like resurrection? Many Christian theologians point to a distant time, usually designated as "the last day," and assure us that that will be our day of resurrection. Indeed, this "last day" and the "day of resurrection" have become almost synonymous terms.
What should be our attitude—as students of the New Testament? Several things seem fairly clear:
(1) Jesus taught that we should share in His resurrection: "I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25); "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). Jesus also said, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also" (John 14:12)—and we must surely include resurrection among the "works" of Jesus!
(2) It is also noticeable that in some early New Testament writings the resurrection of Christian believers is projected to a future time—the time of "the coming of the Lord." (See I Thess. 4:16; I Cor. 15:52-53.) This would indicate that this teaching was familiar to the Early Christians.
(3) But in later New Testament writings, resurrection is often referred to as a present experience— an experience which is to be entered upon here and now. Writing to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul states: "And you he did make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked ... but God ... even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ... and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:1-6). This is followed by an urgent call: "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee" (Eph. 5:14). The Apostle also wrote to the Colossians, "If then ye were raised with Christ, seek the things that are above" (Col. 3:1). There are also other similar passages. Thus it would appear that in the Early Church the word resurrection also indicated an experience to be sought after and attained by the Christians.
(4) The above should not be interpreted as suggesting that we abandon all thoughts of future happenings or glories; for all scriptural passages dealing with the future have important meaning, when rightly understood. At the same time, we should recognize that there is much resurrection work to be accomplished at the present time. There are daily resurrections into which we may enter, and each of these may prove to be a step upward toward some greater attainment. Tennyson wrote:
"I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things."
The following quotation should also prove helpful:
"Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Its inner meaning and spiritual significance is the awakening and raising to spiritual consciousness of the I AM in man, which has been dead in trespasses and sins and buried in the tomb of materiality. ' 'I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.' The resurrection is the raising up of the whole man—spirit, soul, and body—into the Christ consciousness of life and wholeness. This Jesus did. The tomb could not hold His redeemed perfected body temple. Resurrection is accomplished by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit.
"Every time we rise to the realization of eternal, indwelling life, making union with the Father-Mind, the resurrection of Jesus takes place within us. All thoughts of limitation and inevitable obedience to material law are left in the tomb of materiality" (Keep A True Lent 197).
John 21:1-25; Luke 24:36-49
5. The Forty Days.
The term "forty days" is often applied to the period between Jesus' resurrection and His ascension. Some of the activities during this period have already been discussed, and others are recorded in the New Testament passages given above. The student should also reread John's Gospel, Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen—since several of Jesus' statements given in these chapters have important bearing upon this forty-day period.
In scriptural usage the number forty has special significance. Sometimes the reference may be to actual calendar days or years, while at other times an approximate period may be indicated. But in practically every instance the idea to be conveyed by the number forty is the same: That period of time necessary for the completion of the particular activity or piece of work at hand. Thus, the number forty is closely associated with accomplishment.
At this point, therefore, we should try to realize what Jesus was seeking to accomplish during this forty-day period. His purpose was of twofold nature:
(1) Jesus was seeking to establish the truth of His resurrection in the minds of His followers. Apparently, one appearance was not sufficient to accomplish this. Certain fixed beliefs had to be changed, doubts had to be dissolved, and skeptics had to be convinced. During the forty days all this and much more was accomplished, so that when the Apostles went forth on their preaching mission, they fearlessly proclaimed that "God raised him from the dead, and gave him glory" (I Pet. 1:21).
(2) Jesus also sought to instruct His followers regarding impending changes—especially those relating to His physical presence. Thus far, Jesus had given personal leadership and had taken the initiative in all activities. But now the Apostles were to assume new responsibilities and were to carry the kingdom message to all parts of the world. Jesus gave them the assurance that He would be with them, but henceforth His leadership would be of a spiritual nature. The forty days, therefore, constituted what may be termed an intermediate period, between the physical and the spiritual presence, preparing the Apostles for the change.
The fullest account of the activities during this forty-day period is found in the twenty-first chapter of John's Gospel. With the explanation given above, this chapter should prove to be of special interest to the student. However, it should be noted that this chapter forms what is often designated as an "appendix" to John's Gospel. As originally written, the Gospel apparently ended with the closing words of the twentieth chapter, and the twenty-first chapter was added (perhaps twenty years later) by another writer. The style of writing and the type of activities mentioned clearly indicate the change of authorship. Also the subject matter reveals the writer's twofold purpose in adding this chapter:
(1) The writer feels called upon to explain the passing of the Apostle John, at an advanced age — and to do this in a manner that will not disturb the cherished beliefs of the Early Christians at Ephesus.
(2) The writer also attempts to bolster up some Early Church teachings regarding "the primacy of Peter." These teachings had been somewhat discounted in the earlier part of John's Gospel through the story of the foot-washing. (See John 13, with comments in Lesson Ten.) But with the passing of the Apostle John these teachings were apparently making fresh headway, and the writer of this twenty-first chapter seems to be among those favoring the teaching.
However, perhaps the most important feature of the twenty-first chapter is seen in the story of Jesus, the risen Lord, meeting with His disciples on the shore of Lake Tiberias. (See John 21:1-14.) The student should compare this with an earlier happening, recorded in Luke 5:1-11. Several interesting similarities, and also some differences, will be noted. Both stories point out how discouragement and failure gave place to joy and success when Jesus appeared on the scene. The disciples had "toiled all night," but had accomplished nothing. However, when they obeyed the command of Jesus, their fishing nets were soon filled to overflowing. The story tells how the disciples had been fishing from the "wrong side" of the boat (negative thoughts), with resulting failure. But when they fished from the "right side" (positive thoughts), their efforts were crowned with success!
Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11; Matt. 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20
6. The Ascension.
Many students of the New Testament will be familiar with the statement given in the Apostles' Creed: "He ascended into heaven." This statement has reference to the important happening, recorded in the Gospels, which brought the forty-day period of Jesus' ministry to a climactic close. The scriptural passages dealing with Jesus' ascension are given above, and all these should be carefully read, with close attention being paid to the context in each instance.
These accounts of the Ascension form three separate groups, and each group has its special interest:
(1) The Luke-Acts Account
These two sections should be read as forming a continuous story. Luke wrote the Gospel bearing his name, and he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. The story of the Ascension is begun in Luke and then carried to its conclusion in Acts. It should be recalled that Luke was not a disciple of Jesus, but a convert of the Apostle Paul, so he was not present when the recorded happenings took place. However, in the preface to his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4), Luke indicates that he was very careful in gathering and checking the material relating to the activities of Jesus.
Luke gives what is often referred to as "the traditional story of the Ascension." Jesus is shown as parting from His disciples, and then "He was lifted up; and a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). In this connection it should also be recalled that Luke was a Gentile, and that his Gospel was written mainly for Gentile Christians. This recognition is important, because at that time the Gentile viewpoint was materialistic, and the recognized deities were regarded as dwelling either on mountaintops or in the skies. Thus, Gentile readers would accept more readily the idea of Jesus coming from and returning to a heavenly abode.
(2) The Mark Account
The closing section of Mark's Gospel (16:9-20) is usually referred to as an "appendix." Some versions of the Bible omit this passage altogether, while others call attention to its special nature. There is a possibility that the original ending of Mark's Gospel was lost at a very early period, and this section added by a later writer. An Armenian tradition states that this "appendix" was written by Ariston the Presbyter, who lived early in the second century. Whoever the writer was, he seems to have been familiar with the endings of Matthew and Luke; for in his story of the Ascension he has apparently combined the information given in those Gospels.
(3) The Matthew Account
This passage makes a very important contribution to the story of Jesus' ascension—although for some reason it is often overlooked. Two features in Matthew's story should be specially noted:
(a) Matthew was a disciple of Jesus and was actually present at the happening recorded. Note the mention of "the eleven" (disciples)—indicating that the full company of Jesus' disciples was present, with the exception of Judas (who had committed suicide). Thus, we have here the testimony of an "eyewitness."
(b) Matthew also reports that Jesus, after instructing "the eleven" to "make disciples of all nations," gave them this important promise: "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (or "consummation of the ages"). It would therefore seem that instead of leaving the disciples, Jesus gave them the assurance of His continued presence. Jesus instructed the disciples to go to all nations; but He would go with them all the way.
(4) Interpreting the Accounts
(a) The Luke and Matthew accounts should not be regarded as contradictory. Rather, we should recognize here the same story, but told from different viewpoints. As already mentioned, Luke wrote for Gentile Christians, who were called upon to face the fact that Jesus was no longer visibly present with them. In their materialistic way of thinking, this could mean only one thing-—that Jesus had gone away to some other place. But Matthew wrote for Jewish Christians, who were accustomed to thinking in spiritual terms. It was not necessary for them to have an image of their God, or any other visible form; His presence with them was fully recognized at all times and under all circumstances. Jewish people recognized that "no man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18); but they also believed that God was "a very present help" (Psalm 46:1). Similarly, in regard to the presence of Jesus Christ, there were Christians who needed to "touch and see" before they could believe, as well as those blessed ones "that have not seen, and yet have believed." (See John 20:26-29.) Thus, for some Christians, Jesus had "gone away"; but others, more spiritually minded, recognized His continuing presence, and they understood Jesus saying, "Abide in me, and I in you" (John 15:4).
(b) John's Gospel reports Jesus as saying to Mary, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father" (John 20:17). The word ascended, as here used, can scarcely refer to a departure to take place some time later. The context indicates that Mary's actions (clinging to Jesus' feet) were tending to hinder some development which was then in process. The Resurrection was an accomplished fact, but a further development was to follow; and apparently Jesus desired that this should be accomplished without further delay. What was the nature of this development?
Thus far, Jesus had demonstrated His divinity in many various ways. His omniscience had been shown through His teaching—for "never man spake like this man" (John 7:46 A.V.). His omnipotence was revealed through His miracles—His resurrection being the climax. But one further demonstration needed to be made. During His ministry Jesus had apparently limited Himself in matters of time and space. It will be recalled that when Jesus came to the home of the two sorrowing sisters, Martha said to Him, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21). But Jesus was not there—for, under human limitations, a person cannot be in two places at one time! Therefore, following the Resurrection, a further demonstration needed to be made. Up to this point Jesus had ministered to the "lost sheep of the House of Israel." Now, since His message of life abundant was to be carried to all the world, He also must be available everywhere —hence, the needed demonstration of omnipresence. When this demonstration was made, no one ever again would be justified in saying, "Jesus was not there!" Instead, no matter what the time, place, or circumstance, there would be the realization of the promise, "I am with you always." Ascension, as applied to Jesus Christ, would thus be understood to mean a continuous demonstration of helpful, life-transforming omnipresence. For the Christian believer it would indicate the attainment of perfect oneness with God.
The following quotations will help to make "this clear:
"Those who have entered into this process of spiritual evolution, or what Jesus called the regeneration, are prepared for the reception of these divine new ideas, and instead of resisting they say with Jesus, "Not my will, but thine, be done.' This attitude opens the way for the easy advent into their consciousness of God ideas and leads to an inspiration or steady flow of ideas into it. In this way the sense consciousness is being transformed or lifted up, and the new man appears while the old man is sloughed off. This is crucifixion. The assimilation of the new ideas leads to resurrection and finally to ascension" (Mysteries of Genesis 71).
"We cannot separate Jesus Christ from God or tell where man leaves off and God begins in Him. To say that we are men as Jesus Christ was a man is not exactly true, because He had dropped that personal consciousness by which we separate ourselves from our true God self. He became consciously one with the absolute principle of Being. He proved in His resurrection and ascension that He had no consciousness separate from that of Being, therefore He really was this Being to all intents and purposes.
"Yet He attained no more than what is expected of every one of us. 'That they may be one, even as we are' was His prayer.
"This is all accomplished through the externalization of the superconsciousness, which is omnipresent and ever ready to manifest itself through us as it did through Jesus. Let 'Christ be formed in you' " (Atom-Smashing Power of Mind 40-41).
"Jesus did not leave the planet, at His ascension; He simply entered the inner spiritual realms. He will become visible to those who 'put on Christ' and manifest their incorruptible, undying bodies. Many are conscious of His presence in some degree, but they do not see Him as He is, because they have not brought their faculties of apprehension up to His standard. When we awake in His likeness (see Psalms 17:15) then we shall see Him as He is. This does not come about through the soul's leaving the body, but it is accomplished by refining, spiritualizing, and raising both soul and body to higher degrees of power" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 349).
Here we reach the closing voint of Part One in this course. Throughout the course we have been considering the activities and teachings of Jesus, covering the period from His birth to His resurrection and ascension. Each step of the way has been recognized as spmbolizing a similar step that we may take, as we travel kingdom ward. At this point, therefore, some important statements of Jesus will be appropriate: "Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock" (Matt. 7:24); "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life" (John 10:27-28); "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).
Note: Part Two of this course will deal with the results of Jesus' activities, as the Apostles carried His message "to all the world." The growth and development of apostolic Christianity will be traced step by step, and the student will gain a new understanding and appreciation of the New Testament epistles. Therefore, when answers to this lesson have been satisfactorily completed, a fresh start should be made with Lesson One of Part Two of this course in the study of the New Testament.
Questions for Lesson 12
- Did the disciples regard the Crucifixion as the end of Jesus' ministry—or did they expect a resurrection? Give reasons for your answer, with New Testament references.
- Using your own words, tell briefly the story of Easter morning. (Follow the sequence of events as recorded in John 20:1-18.)
- After telling the Easter story, what substantiating evidence (or "proofs") of Jesus' resurrection could you put forward? List several important points, with a brief explanation of each.
- Mention, and explain briefly, two important tasks that confronted Jesus during the forty-day period between His resurrection and ascension. Make clear what Jesus was seeking to impart to the disciples at that time.
- List the New Testament passages which tell of Jesus' ascension, stating briefly what these passages indicate. Also mention the important assurance given in Matthew's Gospel.
- Explain briefly the place and purpose of resurrection in our experience. What is indicated by the term "daily resurrections"?
- What is the purpose of spiritual baptism? Explain briefly the difference between this and water baptism. When, and how, is spiritual baptism received?
- Explain briefly the difference between intellectual understanding and spiritual understanding. How was this difference shown in the words and actions of Thomas? (See John 20:24-29.)
- Mention some important present-day lessons arising from the Emmaus story. (See Luke 24:13-35.) What does Cleopas symbolize?
- What does the ascension of Jesus Christ represent in our consciousness? How is ascension related to resurrection? How is ascension to be attained?