Plain Truth Magazine
March 1983
Volume: Vol 48, No.3
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Clayton D Steep  

Why was Jesus' resurrection necessary? Many believe his "soul" remained alive between the crucifixion and the resurrection. But if his "soul" were alive, why did his body have to be resurrected for him to live again?

   THINK about it. If only Jesus' body died from the rigors of his crucifixion, but the real he or his "soul" was still alive, why was it necessary for his body to be resurrected three days after his death and burial?
   Why would he need his body if, when he died, he was already an "immortal soul"?
   After Jesus fulfilled his mission in the human flesh and his lifeless body was laid in a tomb, why did it the body have to be brought back to life if the real Jesus was alive elsewhere as a "spirit" or an "immortal soul"? If one's "immortal soul" can live apart from the body, what need is there of a resurrection to life?
   For that matter, why are Christians to be resurrected out of their graves as Jesus was if they are already alive apart from their bodies? If their "immortal souls" have already gone to heaven or paradise when they die, why do Christians need to be resurrected in order to live again?

Why Christ Died

   Before we discover why it was needful for Christ to rise from the dead, we must first understand why he allowed himself to be put to death.
   When God created the first human beings he gave them a choice symbolized by two fruit bearing trees. One tree represented obedience, its fruit leading to eternal life. The other tree represented disobedience, its fruit leading to death for all eternity.
   God said to the first man, Adam, "In the day that thou eatest thereof [the tree that symbolized selfishness and disobedience] thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). In other words, the day man sinned, he came under the penalty of eternal death.
   God didn't say Adam's body would die and that his "soul" would continue to live somewhere. Adam wasn't a body with an "immortal soul" inside. Adam the living, physical being was a soul. When God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, "man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). As a result of Adam's sin, Adam a soul received the death sentence. Of course, for the Bible declares elsewhere, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). This important truth is repeated in verse 20. How can the Bible be any clearer than that?
   Adam sinned and came under the death penalty. But where does that leave the rest of us? We are in the same boat as Adam, because we all every human being who has ever lived have also sinned transgressed God's law (I John 3:4). "Wherefore, as by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men...." Why did death pass upon all men? Continue, "for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12).
   All human beings are consequently under the sentence of death.
   God will not compromise with his law. How then could God fulfill his purpose for human beings?
   To work out his plan, God had to provide some way to redeem, to forgive, to save people from sin. Someone had to bear the penalty of sin to die in their stead so they could be forgiven. It would have to be someone who was without sin so that his death would substitute for everyone else's sins. It would have to be someone whose life was worth more than the lives of all human beings put together.
   Only a member of the God kingdom could satisfy those requirements.
   And so it was that the one we know as Jesus Christ became a flesh and blood mortal so he could die in our stead (John 1:14; Heb. 2:14). If we repent of our sins (that means to stop sinning and begin to obey God's laws), if we ask for forgiveness, we can receive the gift of eternal life rather than the penalty of eternal death. That is, not this first physical death we all die, but the second death from which there will never be a resurrection (Rev. 20:6, 14, 15).
   This is explained so well in John 3:16. Perhaps no other verse in the New Testament is quoted as often and understood so little. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Jesus did not say everyone already has everlasting life an "immortal soul" and faces either spending that everlasting life in hell fire, or in heaven. That's not what this verse says at all!
   Jesus was talking about one's ultimate spirit nature, not one's location. It's a question of either acquiring immortality or not having it; of either living forever as God's gift, or of dying perishing. There is nothing said here about an "immortal soul."
   We should have read in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death." Notice, however, the rest of the verse: "but [on the other hand, by contrast to death] the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Eternal life is not something we already have. We do not possess immortality. It is a gift of God to those who repent. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,"
"The penalty of sin is death the cessation of life. That is the penalty Jesus paid when he "poured out his soul unto death."
declared Jesus (Luke 13:3, 5).
   If the penalty for sin were eternal life in hell fire, that penalty has never been paid in our stead! For Jesus would have had to spend eternity in hell fire which he has not done.
   The penalty of sin is death the cessation of life. That is the penalty Jesus paid when he "poured out his soul [his physical, mortal life sustained by his blood] unto death [not unto eternal life in hell fire]" (Isa. 53:12).

Was Jesus in "Hell"?

   In the Bible, the word translated "soul" usually refers to a living physical body. But in a few instances it actually refers to a physical body whose life has ceased. Thus the words dead body in Leviticus 21:11, for example, are an English translation of the same Hebrew word translated elsewhere in the Bible by the word soul.
   The death and resurrection of Jesus was foretold in Old Testament prophecies centuries beforehand. In one of those prophecies are reflected the words of Jesus to his Father concerning the ordeal of his crucifixion. "My flesh," said Jesus, talking about his fleshly body, "shall rest in hope: [why would his flesh rest in hope?] because thou wilt not leave my soul [his fleshly body!] in hell" (Acts 2:26-27).
   The use of the English word hell in the King James Bible has caused some misunderstanding. The Greek word here translated "hell" merely means the grave a hole in the ground. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what is described elsewhere in the Bible as the "lake of fire."
   Even the old English word hell originally meant no more than a hole or place of hiding. Farmers used to speak of putting their potatoes in "hell" for the winter!
   Jesus' "soul" his fleshly body was placed in a hole in the ground, more precisely, a tomb hewn out of the rocky side of a hill. Jesus himself foretold where he would spend the time between his crucifixion and resurrection. He stated that he would be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" surrounded by earth (Matt. 12:40). Not up in heaven, not off somewhere else. In an earthly grave, a hole in the ground. So said Jesus. He ought to know.
   The idea some have espoused based on a wrong interpretation of a single scripture is that Jesus spent the time between his death and resurrection preaching somewhere to disobedient spirits. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus did at one time preach to demonic spirits "the spirits in prison" (I Pet. 3:19). But when? While he was dead in the grave? No! It happened long before that, "in the days of Noah," as the next verse plainly states.

The Human "Spirit"

   There is no mistaking that the Bible differentiates between a person's "soul" physical life and body and his "spirit" (Heb. 4:12). Jesus said at his death, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). While the pagan idea of a conscious "immortal soul" within man is not biblical, nevertheless the Bible here and elsewhere reveals "there is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8). This "spirit" is not conscious by itself, but joined with the physical brain it forms the human mind and intellect.
   This spirit essence bears the imprint of a person's character, personality and memory. It functions not unlike a computer tape or disk. The tape or disk may contain millions of bits of information. Combined with the computer it makes possible the "intellect" of the computer. But separated from the computer, it is inactive and silent. It does nothing but store information. Likewise does a person's "spirit" function while it is within the person. Separated it is unconscious and inactive. "His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish" (Ps. 146:4, RAV). Still it contains information about all the things that make a person a unique individual.
   When a person dies, "then shall the dust [the physical body, the soul] return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7). This spirit is kept by God and serves as a kind of blueprint by which God will one day resurrect each individual even though that person's body may long ago have disintegrated and returned to dust.
   Jesus referred to this important truth when, just before he expired, he cried: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost [spirit]" (Luke 23:46). That it was not a conscious, living spirit that Jesus committed to the Father is proved by John 20:17, where, after his resurrection, Jesus said that he the conscious Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father!
   Once dead, Jesus' soul his lifeless body was put in the grave where it remained for three days and nights. The second member of the God family had ceased to exist in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He was "cut off out of the land of the living" (Isa. 53:8). All life and conscious thought stopped, for "the dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5). He was asleep, as are all those who have died (Dan. 12:2). His resurrection made him the "firstfruits [the first to be resurrected immortal, to eternal life] of them that slept" (I Cor. 15:20).

Why Jesus Had to Rise FROM THE DEAD

   Why was Jesus brought back to life in a resurrection out of that stone sepulcher? For two reasons. One, Jesus was not worthy of death. He had never sinned. Two, if Jesus were not brought back to life as a glorified, immortal spirit being all the dead in Christ would remain dead forever. They could never live again. "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep [they are not alive up in heaven, or somewhere else they are asleep in their graves] in Christ are perished" never to be brought back to life (I Cor. 15:17-18).
   But the fact is, Christ was raised from the dead. He now lives to minister to those who are being called to salvation. Because he lives we have the glorious "hope [not yet the reality] of eternal life" (Titus 3:7) "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality'" (I Cor. 15:53). When? At the resurrection and not before (verses 42, 50-54).
   That is the plain teaching of the Bible!
The Resurrection: simple as 1, 2, 3.
   The pictures above show the garden tomb, which a tradition says was the site of Jesus' burial. Can you figure three days and three nights between sunset Good Friday and sunrise Easter Sunday? No? Then you have a problem. Because in Matthew 12:40 Jesus said he would be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." He also said, in verse 39, that this was the only sign he would give that he was the Messiah. Now either Jesus was in error or the Good Friday Easter tradition is in error. Our enlightening and controversial booklet The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday makes plain the biblical truth.

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Plain Truth MagazineMarch 1983Vol 48, No.3