You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs…
I. ITS CAUSE. It was such an action as proclaimed an omnipotent agent. Death is a disease which art cannot cure: and the grave a prison which delivers back its captives upon no human summons. To restore life is only the prerogative of Him who gives it. Physic may repair and piece up nature, but not create it. Neither is it in the power of a spirit or demon to inspire a new life; for it is a creation, and to create is the incommunicable prerogative of a power infinite and unlimited. But; I suppose nobody will be very importunate for any further proof of this, that; if Christ was raised, it must be by God who raised Him. The angel might roll away the stone from the sepulchre, but not turn it into a son of Abraham; .and a less power than that which could do so could not effect the resurrection.
II. THE MANNER BY WHICH GOD WROUGHT IT. With what propriety can God be said to "loose the pains of death," when those pains continued not till the resurrection, but expired in the death of His body?
1. Some have affirmed that Christ descended into the place of the damned and suffered the pains of hell. But this could not be; for if Christ suffered any of those pains it was either in His Divine nature, or in His soul, or in His body. But the Divine nature could not suffer as being wholly impassible: nor yet could He suffer in His soul; forasmuch as in the very same day of His death that passed into paradise; nor in His body, for that being dead, and consequently for the time bereaved of all sense, could not be capable of any torment.
2. Now can we make out the reason of this expression upon some other or better ground. The word rendered "pains," in the Hebrew signifies also a cord or band; according to which it is very easy and proper to conceive that the resurrection discharged Christ from the bands of death; besides "having loosed," is properly applicable to bands and not to pains. But —
(1) The words contain in them a Hebraism, viz., the pains of death, for a painful death; as it is said (Matthew 24:15), the abomination of desolation, for an abominable desolation; and so the resurrection loosed Christ from a painful death, not as if it were so at the time of His release from it, but in a divided sense it loosed Him from a continuance under that death; which, relating to the time of His suffering it, was so painful.
(2) But though the pains of death ceased long before the resurrection, so that this could not in strictness of sense be said to remove them; yet, taken in a metonymy of the cause for the effect, the pains of death might be properly said to have been loosed in the resurrection, because that estate of death into which Christ was brought by those foregoing pains was then completely triumphed over. Captivity under death and the grave was the effect and consequent of those pains, and therefore the same deliverance which discharged Christ from the one, might not improperly be said to loose Him from the other.
III. ITS GROUNDS, which was its absolute necessity.
1. The hypostatical union of Christ's human nature to His Divine rendered a perpetual duration under death absolutely impossible. For how could that which was united to the great source and principle of life be finally prevailed over by death, and pass into an estate of perpetual darkness and oblivion? It was possible, indeed, that the Divine nature might for a while suspend its supporting influence, and so deliver over the human nature to pain and death, but it was impossible for it to let go the relation it bore to it. A man may suffer his child to fall to the ground, and yet not wholly quit his hold of him, but still keep it in his power to recover and lift him up at his pleasure. Thus the Divine nature of Christ did for a while hide itself from His humanity, but not desert it; put it into the chambers of death, but not lock the everlasting doors upon it. The sun may be clouded and yet not eclipsed, and eclipsed but not stopped in his course, and much less forced out of its orb. Surely that nature which diffusing itself throughout the universe communicates an enlivening influence to every part of it, and quickens the least spire of grass, would not wholly leave a nature assumed into its bosom, and, what is more, into the very unity of the Divine person, dismantled of its prime and noblest perfection.
2. God's immutability. Christ's resurrection was founded upon the same bottom with the consolation and salvation of believers, expressed in that full declaration made by God of Himself (Malachi 3:6). Now, the immutability of God, as it had an influence upon Christ's resurrection, was twofold.
(1) In respect of His decree or purpose. God had from all eternity designed this, and sealed it by an irreversible purpose. For can we imagine that Christ's resurrection was not decreed, as well as His death and sufferings? and these in the 23rd verse of this chapter are expressly said to have been determined by God. It is a known rule in divinity, that whatsoever God does in time, that He purposed to do from eternity; for there can be no new purposes of God, since he who takes up a new purpose does so because he sees some ground to induce him to such a purpose, which he did not see before; but this can have no place in an infinite knowledge, which by one comprehensive intuition sees all things at present, before ever they come to pass: so that there can be no new emergency that can alter the Divine resolutions.
(2) In respect of His word and promise, for these also were engaged in this affair (Psalm 16:10). And Christ also had frequently foretold the same of Himself. Now when God says a thing He gives His veracity in pawn to see it fully performed. Heaven or earth may pass away sooner than one iota of a Divine promise fall to the ground.
3. God's justice. God in the whole procedure of Christ's sufferings must be considered as a judge exacting, and Christ as a person paying down a recompense or satisfaction for sin. The punishment due to sin was death, which being paid by Christ, Divine justice could not any longer detain Him in His grave. For what had this been else but to keep Him in prison after the debt was paid? Satisfaction disarms justice, and payment cancels the bond. Christ's release proceeded not upon terms of courtesy but of claim. The gates of death flew open before Him out of duty.
4. The necessity of His being believed in as a Saviour, and the impossibility of His being so without rising from the dead. As Christ by His death paid down a satisfaction for sin, so it was necessary that it should be declared to the world by such arguments as might found a rational belief of it; so that men's unbelief should be rendered inexcusable. But how could the world believe that He fully had satisfied for sin, so long as they saw death, the known wages of sin, maintain its full force and power over Him? Had not the resurrection followed the crucifixion, that scoff of the Jews had stood as an unanswerable argument against Him (Mark 15:31, 32). To save is the effect of power, and of such a power as prevails to a complete victory and a triumph.
5. The nature of the priesthood which He had taken upon Him. The apostle (Hebrews 8:4) says, that "if He were upon earth He should not be a priest." Certainly then much less could He be so, should He continue under the earth. The two great works of His priesthood were to offer sacrifice, and then to make intercession for sinners, correspondent to the two works of the Mosaical priesthood. Christ, therefore, after that He had offered Himself upon the Cross, was to enter, into heaven, and there presenting Himself to the Father to make that sacrifice effectual to all the intents and purposes of it (Hebrews 7:25). Had not Christ risen again, His blood indeed might have cried for vengeance upon His murderers, but not for mercy upon believers. Ever since Christ ascended into heaven He has been pursuing the great work begun by Him upon the Cross, and applying The virtue of His sacrifice to those for whom it was offered.
(R. South, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: