Article 2—And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
The wording of this particular article is evidently taken from I Corinthians 15:3, 4: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
There was an element in the church of Corinth that denied the resurrection of the dead. Their claim was that the dead rise not. This they applied specifically to the saints who had departed in death. To counter this dreadful error, Paul set about to establish the fact of Christ’s resurrection. If Christ be risen from the dead, how can it he said that the dead rise not? In the first part of chapter 15 Paul establishes the fact of Christ’s resurrection. In verse 4 he does this by reminding the saints that the resurrection of Christ is according to the Scriptures. That is, the resurrection of Christ was prophesied even in the O.T. Scriptures. The resurrection therefore was not some fabrication of recent date.
By alluding to this passage the early church also sought in the Nicene Creed to establish the fact of Christ’s resurrection. For there were those even then who were denying the resurrection of Christ.
There were those first who were promoting the falsehood or fraud theory of Jesus’ resurrection. According to this theory the disciples had stolen away the body of Jesus from the sepulchre while the Roman soldiers slept, and later claimed that He had risen. This idea had first been set forth by the Jewish leaders at the time of the resurrection. With them of course it had been a deliberate lie. The soldiers upon seeing the angel descend from heaven had come trembling with fear to the leaders of the Jews telling all they had seen. And the leaders had bribed the soldiers into saying that the disciples had stolen the body while they slept (cf. Matt. 28:11-15). According to Matthew 28:15 this explanation was commonly received among the Jews even till the time of the writing of the Gospel of Matthew which was about 35 years after the resurrection. We learn from other sources that this erroneous idea continued on even after that. It was found among the Jews even in the middle of the second century at the time of the church father Justin Martyr. This same idea was also propounded by the noted pagan philosopher Celsus, who was a chief opponent of the Christian faith in the middle of the second century.
It is rather interesting that this same falsehood theory was later revived in the eighteenth century and is still widely accepted today. In fact, a new twist was even added to this theory by Salvador, a French Jew. According to Salvador, Jesus was saved from crucifixion by the wife of Pontius Pilate with the cooperation of Joseph of Arimathaea or some Galilean women. Thereupon Jesus retired to the desert to live among the sect of the Essenes, appearing later on to a few of His disciples in secret.
Another theory that arose during the second century was the swoon theory. According to this theory Jesus never died on the cross. He merely went into a swoon or deep faint. On the assumption that He was dead, Jesus was placed in the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathaea only to revive sometime before the third day and claim to be risen. This theory also was later revived at the beginning of the nineteenth century and is still held by some today.
Finally there was the vision or hallucination theory. This theory concentrates especially on the special appearances of Jesus after His resurrection and which served to convince the church at that time of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. According to the vision theory Jesus never did appear to any of His disciples. The disciples merely imagined they saw Jesus. After Jesus’ death on the cross the disciples eagerly looked for and longed for the resurrection of their Lord. And in this particular case the wish for the resurrection became the father of the belief that He had risen. In fact, so strong was this belief that soon various disciples reported they had seen Him. But these “appearances” were merely hallucinations brought about by the misguided zeal of the disciples.
This theory was invented by the pagan philosopher Celsus in the second century who, we saw, also advanced the falsehood theory. And these two theories are quite easily combined. Not all the disciples were involved in the attempt to deceive others into believing that Jesus had risen. Only some stole the body and then proceeded to convince others of the disciples that Jesus had risen. And those who had been so duped in turn began in their exuberance to hallucinate, seeing visions of their .risen Savior. Also the hallucination theory, after being buried out of sight for centuries, arose to new life in the nineteenth century and gained a great deal of credence in the church world. And even today there are many in the church who will explain the appearances of Jesus in the Gospel accounts in this manner.
Over against the widespread denial of the resurrection of Jesus the early church in this fifth article of her creed confessed that Jesus has in fact risen from the dead. And she did so on the basis of the Scriptures. For she confessed that Jesus rose again “according to the Scriptures.”
Now it is not that difficult to demonstrate the absurdity of the three theories dreamed up to deny the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
Take for example the falsehood theory. How, in the first place, can anyone verify this theory that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and claimed a resurrection. As this theory started, the disciples stole the body of Jesus while the guards slept. Who then saw them steal the body? The soldiers didn’t. They were sleeping! Besides, this theory is preposterous in light of other facts. Consider for example the faint-heartedness of the disciples. At Jesus’ arrest and trial they all fled. On Easter Sunday they were all huddled in an upper room, doors and windows barred, for fear of their lives. Does this sound like a group capable of stealing the body of Jesus from under the noses of Roman guards and then convincing others that He had in fact risen? How absurd! Besides, many of these same disciples charged with this deception later suffered martyrdom for their belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Does one willingly give his life for the sake of what he knows to be a deliberate lie?
The same can be shown in connection with the swoon theory. Is it really plausible that the Roman soldiers attending the crucifixion of Jesus, who were professional executioners, could not tell the difference between death and a deep faint? And could it be possible that Jesus, after having gone into a deep faint and suffering a spear thrust to the side as well, could then within 48 hours revive, somehow sneak away from the sepulchre and walk all the way to Emmaus with two of His disciples (cf. Luke 24:13ff.)?
The hallucination theory is no less absurd. It is certainly plausible that a person so desperately wants to see something that he actually imagines he sees it. This has happened before. However, it is quite absurd to imagine that large numbers of people will have the same hallucination at the same time. But this is what must be claimed with the hallucination theory of Jesus’ resurrection. For according to the witness of the Scriptures Jesus appeared to as many as 500 of His followers on one occasion (cf. I Cor. 15:5, 6).
However, the early church didn’t answer the opponents of the resurrection by pointing out the absurdities of these theories. She rather answered them by pointing to the Scriptures. Jesus rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. By the Scriptures the early church evidently meant the O.T. Scriptures, the point being that the resurrection had been prophesied centuries before the birth of Jesus.
The O.T. Scriptures certainly do speak of the resurrection of Christ. So much is this the case that Christ Himself spent quite a while on Easter afternoon expounding to the two travelers to Emmaus from the O.T. Scriptures that He had to suffer the shame of the cross and thus enter into glory (cf. Luke 24:25, 26). And this certainly implies the resurrection. In like manner Paul in Thessalonica reasoned for three sabbath days out of the O.T. Scriptures that “Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead” (cf. Acts 17:1-3). In fact, before King Agrippa Paul summarized his whole ministry as an Apostle as “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, and to the Gentiles” (cf. Acts 26:22, 23).
And if we turn to the O.T. Scriptures we can indeed find the resurrection of Christ. It is not our intention to cite all these passages, but to mention just a few. The resurrection of Christ is directly referred to in such passages as Isaiah 53:10-12 and Psalm 16:10. The resurrection is furthermore typically represented in certain O.T. events, as God sparing Isaac from being sacrificed by his father Abraham (cf. Hebrews 11:19) and Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days (cf. Matt. 12:40). Furthermore, the resurrection of Christ is definitely implied in those passages which speak of the eternal glory that God has for the Promised Christ. This is especially true if we view these passages in light of the prophecies that speak of Christ’s suffering and death. How can the Christ of God, Who must suffer many things, even death, enjoy the glorious exaltation spoken of in the O.T. without a resurrection from the dead? Confer such passages as II Samuel 7:12-17, Psalm 2, and Psalm 110.
Certainly the prophecies of the O.T. Scriptures concerning the resurrection serve to verify the witness of the N.T. Scriptures that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. How can anyone claim that Jesus’ resurrection was really only a fraud perpetrated by the disciples, or a hallucination suffered by those overwrought by the death of their Master, or no fact at all because Jesus never died on the cross—how can these claims be made in light of the fact that the resurrection had been prophesied centuries before in the Scriptures? Certainly the true believer accepts at face value all that he finds in the N.T. Scriptures concerning the resurrection. And therefore he has no time at all for all the theories to explain away the resurrection. Nevertheless his faith in the resurrection is confirmed by the prophecies of the O.T. Scriptures concerning Christ’s resurrection. And these O.T. prophecies also mercilessly destroy every argument of the unbeliever as he seeks to destroy the resurrection.
Hence, with the early Christian church, and over against the same enemy of the truth that the early church faced, we confess “and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.”