The First To Rise From The Dead
Each year, on a specific Sunday in early Spring, Christians celebrate the momentous occasion of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The date of this Sunday varies year by year because it is calculated in accordance with the first full moon which follows the Vernal Equinox. The equinox is the exact time when the sun crosses the earth’s equator, thus making night and day of equal length worldwide. This unique positioning occurs twice a year: 1)The Vernal Equinox, around March 21st, which initiates the start of Spring, and 2)The Autumnal Equinox, around September 22nd, which begins the Fall season.
The first Sunday which follows the first full moon of Spring is the official calendar day on which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. This year, the first full moon of Spring is on April 19th. Therefore, Resurrection Sunday is April 21st, 2019.
In the years of the first century following that victorious day when God raised His son from the dead, there was no such special calendar day remembering that event. The message of man’s redeemer and the teaching of man’s redemption was being brought to the people of the nations of the world for the first time. The man bringing this message to them was Paul. The record of his travels and how his teaching was received is documented in detail in the book of Acts, with some references in the Epistles.
The first outreach itinerary of Paul is recorded in chapters 13 and 14 of Acts. Paul leaves from, and returns to, the city of Antioch of Syria. Similarly, Paul’s second itinerary begins and ends in Antioch and can be read in Acts 15:40 through 18:22. His third itinerary begins in the next verse, Acts 18:23, and ends in the city of Jerusalem, Acts 21:17.
During Paul’s third outreach itinerary God warned Paul time after time not to go to Jerusalem, saying that ‘bonds and afflictions’ would result if he did. He did go, and he consequently suffered bonds and afflictions just as God had said. In Jerusalem, Paul had to be rescued out from an angry Judean mob seeking to kill him. The Roman military commander, Claudius, separated Paul from them and took him into custody. He assumed Paul was a lawbreaker, but didn’t know which law he had violated.
The next day, the commander brought Paul to the Sanhedrin to learn of the crime for which he was accused. Claudius wanted to hear the specifics from Paul’s accusers and also allow Paul to speak for himself. When Paul spoke to the Sanhedrin, he boldly declared that the primary cause for their judgment against him was his steadfastness in the hope of God’s promise to raise the dead.
But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council [the Sanhedrin], Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. ACTS 23:6
The majority of the Sanhedrin were Pharisees. Paul had been a Pharisee. He knew how they thought. He knew the intricacies of their system. In the past, he had been their favorite son when he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the lord”. Paul was the one who had violently persecuted the followers of Jesus Christ. Now he was their greatest champion.
What changed Paul? The truth. He realized that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the anointed one, the redeemer God promised would rescue man from the grave. Every prophecy had been fulfilled. The victory over death was completely, irrevocably accomplished when God raised him from the dead. Paul’s passion and unwavering commitment was now rooted in that victory, and he was its primary spokesman to the people of all nations. Paul’s message was detested and despised by the religious system of the Judeans. Now they wanted him executed just as they had wanted Jesus Christ executed.
Hardness of heart blinded their eyes to the complete deliverance accomplished by the man who is man’s redeemer. Paul, too, had been a product of unbelief, but became the preacher of the gospel of truth.
In order to thwart a murderous plot against Paul, Claudius covertly snuck him out of Jerusalem at night under cover of a sizable military exercise of about 500 men. He sent him to the Roman governor, Felix, in Caesarea. Felix wanted to hear from Paul’s Jerusalem accusers. So, after five days, the high priest, the elders and others arrived in Caesarea, fully prepared to recapture Paul and take him back. After hearing their concocted charges, Felix gave Paul the opportunity to reply to their accusations.
There are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship, and they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city. Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me.
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy [a divisive cult], so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.
And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. ACTS 24:12-16
Paul was committed to the teaching and instruction of the Word of God, “believing all things which are written”. Because of this he had his “hope toward God”. He then declares the two essential events of the hope made known throughout God’s Word, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust”. Paul was enthusiastically rooted in and motivated by the reality of God’s promise to raise the dead in these two resurrection events. Both events are made known by the prophets in the Old Testament, by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, by Paul in his Epistles and in Revelation chapter 20. Why is this marvelous and unparalleled message not being taught today like Paul taught it then?
The predominant teaching of today’s denominational Christian church is essentially, ‘When you die (at that moment of time) you go to heaven’. God’s Word says, ‘There shall be (at a future time) a resurrection of the just and a resurrection of the unjust’. Jesus Christ was resurrected. He didn’t ‘go to heaven’ when he died. God raised him from death to life after three days and three nights in the grave. Why should it be better or different for any other individual if that was God’s way for His own son?
Paul’s final words in his self-defense before Felix and the others there from Jerusalem were:
Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day. ACTS 24:21B
Paul was kept in prison by Felix for two years, then Festus arrived and replaced him as governor. After some time in office, Festus was visited by King Agrippa. Upon learning of the details regarding Paul, he wanted to hear from Paul for himself. What do you think was foremost in Paul’s remarks to him?
And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come.
For which hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Judeans. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? ACTS 26:6-8
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people [the people of the old covenant], and to the Gentiles [the people of all the nations]. ACTS 26:22-23
Jesus Christ was the first to rise from the dead. He is not the one and only one God will raise, which will likely be taught this Resurrection Sunday. If he is the first as the Scriptures say, then that means others will follow who also will be raised as he was. This is the documented, unwavering truth of God, and these promised things are still future. This was Paul’s message in the first century, and this should be the message of all Bible believing men and women of our time as well. Especially on the upcoming Sunday after the first full moon of Spring, the day we celebrate the victory over death. Our hope is life eternal and incorruptible because of the resurrection of our lord Jesus Christ from the dead!