Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21
The lesson in the manual focuses upon the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, but only lightly touch on the action of the resurrection or the events surrounding that singular event. We will try and touch a little deeper on some of the events concerning the resurrection.
Ancient Jewish days started at sundown, not at midnight as we now practice it. Jesus was crucified on Friday, but the next official Jewish day and the holy day of Passover would begin at dusk (about 6pm) on Friday. Jewish law forbade executions to occur on Passover, and so the death of Jesus and the two thieves had to be expedited. The Roman soldiers crushed the legs of the two thieves, causing intense pain and the weight of the body to be no more supported on the legs, but only on the arms, causing suffocation to occur.
But Jesus had already died. To ensure he was dead, a soldier pierced his side with a spear, stabbing directly into his heart. On dying, the fluids in the heart and blood stream begin to separate, and so both blood and water burst from the wound. It was necessary for Jesus to die without having his legs broken. The Paschal lamb was required to be perfect, without blemish and no broken bones.
The wealthy Joseph of Arimathea requested his body and quickly prepared the body to be laid in his own stately tomb. Jesus was not buried a full three days, but only parts of the first and third day. Truly we see:
“7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
“8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
“9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53).
Three Days Dead and Alive
While his body slept, his spirit had things to accomplish. In LDS teaching, President Joseph Fielding Smith (nephew of Joseph Smith) received a vision (D&C 128) in regards to what Jesus did during his three days:
“6 I opened the Bible and read the third and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly impressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:
7 “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
8 “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
9 “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:18–20.)
10 “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6.)
In the vision, he saw the Spirit World, a place in between earth and heaven, wherein the spirits of men and women await the Resurrection and prepare for the Final Judgment. The Spirit World is divided into two sections: Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison/hell. The believing thief next to Christ was told he would be with Jesus that very day in Paradise. The disbelieving and mocking thief, on the other hand, would find himself suffering for his sins in hell.
Jesus’ purpose, according the Bible verses read by President Smith were to show that Jesus preached the gospel to the dead, including those who died at the Great Flood. President Smith pondered on how Jesus could preach the gospel to millions of the dead within such a short amount of time. As he pondered this, a vision of the Spirit World opened up to him. He first saw the righteous and the state of happiness and joy they were in. Then he saw those in Spirit Prison, and how Jesus was able to preach to them.
18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
20 But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised;
21 Neither did the rebellious who rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets behold his presence, nor look upon his face.
22 Where these were, darkness reigned, but among the righteous there was peace;
29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
So the Lord preached to the repentant and righteous in Paradise, while the wicked remained in hell or Spirit Prison until they learned the gospel from missionaries sent from Paradise and repented of their sins.
Gospel of Nicodemus
Interestingly, an early Christian book also talks of the Spirit World where Christ went. The Gospel of Nicodemus begins with several people arising from the grave and entering into the towns. Two of these were the dead sons of the high priest Simeon. The Sanhedrin questioned these two and asked what occurred with them.
They were in prison, when their father Simeon came to them and told them to glorify Jesus, for he held Jesus when the Lord was but a babe, and Simeon an old man, and prophesied what would occur to the child and the world would be blessed.
Then they saw John the Baptist, Adam, Seth, and all the patriarchs and prophets. Each of these testified to the two young men concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, the full gospel of Christ was preached to those who had not received it.
There is then a discussion between Satan and the angel over Hell. Satan told Hell to prepare to receive Jesus, as he had just slain the Lord.
“Hell answered and said: Thou hast told me that it is he that hath taken away dead men from me. For there be many which while they lived on the earth have taken dead men from me, yet not by their own power but by prayer to God, and their almighty God hath taken them from me. Who is this Jesus which by his own word without prayer hath drawn dead men from me? Perchance it is he which by the word of his command did restore to life Lazarus which was four days dead and stank and was corrupt, whom I held here dead. Satan the prince of death answered and said: It is that same Jesus. When Hell heard that he said unto him: I adjure thee by thy strength and mine own that thou bring him not unto me. For at that time I, when I heard the command of his word, did quake and was overwhelmed with fear, and all my ministries with me were troubled. Neither could we keep Lazarus, but he like an eagle shaking himself leaped forth with all agility and swiftness, and departed from us, and the earth also which held the dead body of Lazarus straightway gave him up alive. Wherefore now I know that that man which was able to do these things is a God strong in command and mighty in manhood, and that he is the saviour of mankind. And if thou bring him unto me he will set free all that are here shut up in the hard prison and bound in the chains of their sins that cannot be broken, and will bring them unto the life of his god head for ever.”
Jesus enters and breaks down the doors of hell, releasing the righteous. Jesus embraced the righteous.
“And the Lord stretching forth his hand, said: Come unto me, all ye my saints which bear mine image and my likeness. Ye that by the tree and the devil and death were condemned, behold now the devil and death condemned by the tree. And forthwith all the saints were gathered in one under the hand of the Lord. And the Lord holding the right hand of Adam, said unto him: Peace be unto thee with all thy children that are my righteous ones.“
Isaiah, Habbakuk, David, and many other prophets quoted their inspired prophecies of Jesus, as the saints all knelt and pledged their hearts to their true King.
“But the Lord holding the hand of Adam delivered him unto Michael the archangel, and all the saints followed Michael the archangel, and he brought them all into the glory and beauty (grace) of paradise.“
So the righteous were taken to paradise, a place of rest and peace. Meanwhile the wicked remained in Spirit Prison/hell. In LDS teaching, they would also be taught the gospel, even as the sons of Simeon were taught. Those who repented and believed would also be brought into paradise, where they could be at rest and await their glorious resurrection at the 2nd Coming.
The final witness of Christ in the Gospel of Nicodemus then came forth.
“And as Enoch and Elias (Elijah) spake thus with the saints, behold there came another man of vile habit, bearing upon his shoulders the sign of the cross; whom when they beheld, all the saints said unto him: Who art thou? for thine appearance is as of a robber; and wherefore is it that thou bearest a sign upon thy shoulders? And he answered them and said: Ye have rightly said: for I was a robber, doing all manner of evil upon the earth. And the Jews crucified me with Jesus, and I beheld the wonders in the creation which came to pass through the cross of Jesus when he was crucified, and I believed that he was the maker of all creatures and the almighty king, and I besought him, saying: Remember me, Lord, when thou comest into thy kingdom. And forthwith he received my prayer, and said unto me: Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with me in paradise: and he gave me the sign of the cross, saying: Bear this and go unto paradise, and if the angel that keepeth paradise suffer thee not to enter in, show him the sign of the cross; and thou shalt say unto him: Jesus Christ the Son of God who now is crucified hath sent me. And when I had so done, I spake all these things unto the angel that keepeth paradise; and when he heard this of me, forthwith he opened the door and brought me in and set me at the right hand of paradise, saying: Lo now, tarry a little, and Adam the father of all mankind will enter in with all his children that are holy and righteous, after the triumph and glory of the ascending up of Christ the Lord that is crucified. When they heard all these words of the robber, all the holy patriarchs and prophets said with one voice: Blessed be the Lord Almighty, the Father of eternal good things, the Father of mercies, thou that hast given such grace unto thy sinners and hast brought them again into the beauty of paradise and into thy good pastures: for this is the most holy life of the spirit. Amen, Amen.”
So, even those who have led wicked lives can be saved from hell, if they but repent and believe on Christ (see Alma 36 for more).
In the gospels, it is important to note that Jesus did not first appear to Peter and the other apostles, but to the women. Why would he go to them first?
First, it seems they expressed a greater faith at the time. While Peter denied Christ and the others fled, the women remained at the cross, and then carefully wrapped his body in the tomb. They were the first to his tomb that Sunday morning. It seems only natural that when Jesus was upon the cross he would ensure his mother would be cared for, and so he would also appear to those faithful women first.
Another possible reason comes to us from the Gospel of Philip:
“There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary....
“Mary Magdalene. [...] (Jesus?) loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples [...]. They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them,"Why do I not love you like her?“
It is possible that Jesus had a special relationship with his mother Mary, his aunt, and Mary Magdalene, his companion. This would be another way of suggesting that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene. If that is the case, then it would make sense for him to first appear to his wife, and those women who raised him from a child.
Witnesses of the Resurrection
The lesson discusses many of the witnesses of the resurrected Christ: the women, the apostles, etc. For the world, this is a limited set which is a weak witness of the arisen Lord. Yet, there are additional witnesses.
The Book of Mormon includes witnesses beginning with Lehi (1 Nephi 1) through the final words of the prophet Moroni. This includes the visit of the resurrected Christ to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11-28).
Lastly, there are living prophets and witnesses of Christ:
"19 And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
"20 And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;
"21 And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
"22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
"23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
"24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God" (D&C 76).
Joseph Smith and many latter day prophets have seen and spoken with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Today we have 15 living prophets and apostles who are called to be witnesses to all the world of His resurrection. Their testimony of Christ is now available to read as a proclamation.
Our Own Witness of the Resurrection
As I’ve shown in the lessons for both the New and Old Testament, it is for each of us to not only read about others who have become witnesses of God, but to conduct our own spiritual journey until we have our own theophany: to see Christ in his glory.
It is a pattern that is set in the Bible and Book of Mormon. God appeared to Adam in the Garden. Noah walked with God. Abraham saw the Lord Jehovah. Jacob saw God on his throne at the top of the holy ladder/staircase he saw in vision. Moses spoke to God face to face. Isaiah saw God on his throne in the midst of the seraphim. Ezekiel saw God on a mobile throne that could reach the Jews in Babylon. After the resurrection, Stephen will see Jesus standing on the right hand of God, in the continued pattern of the theophany that God established with Adam and has continued down to our time with modern prophets.
What, then, are we doing to prepare for our own theophany? Have we begun the process of faith in Christ, repentance, receiving ordinances and the Holy Ghost? Has the Holy Ghost witnessed of Christ to us personally? Are we growing spiritually, so that one day the Lord himself will witness of his own resurrection to us?
Today is the best day to begin our spiritual quest to find Christ.
Gospel of Nicodemus: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelnicodemus.html
Gospel of Philip: http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html
Apostles Proclamation on the Living Christ: http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,90-1-10-1,00.html