The Nazarene Way of
This initiation of resurrection and ascension is divided into two halves, and of neither of them do we know very much. The detail of the Resurrection episode in Christ's life is left untold by the writers of the New Testament. It was not possible for them to know more.
After the Crucifixion we are told little of Christ's own life, or what occupied Him between the time He rose again until He left the company of the Apostles, and "ascended into Heaven" - a purely symbolic phrase. The crucial initiation for humanity to understand at this time is that only when we have mastered the significance of service and sacrifice can the fact of immortality and its true meaning be revealed to us.
How Christ rose, what were the processes undergone, in exactly what body He appeared, we cannot tell. We are assured by the Apostles that it resembled the one He had previously employed, but whether it was the same body miraculously resurrected; whether it was His spiritual body which appeared to be the same to the physical eyes of those who loved Him, or whether He had constructed something entirely different or on the same general lines as the previous one, it is not possible for us to say; neither is it possible for us to be confident that the vision of the disciples was not supernatural or that, through the intensification of His expressed divinity, Christ had so stimulated their inner vision that they saw clairvoyantly.
The important matter is that He did rise again, that He was seen by many, and that the fact of His resurrection was credited in the minds of those closest to Him and for two or three centuries after His departure.
The psychology of the disciples is the best proof we have of the reality of their conviction that death could not hold the Master, and that after death He was present and living among them. It is difficult for us to gain this high achievement in consciousness which they showed.
Apparently their world had come to an end upon the Cross. Christ had apparently failed them, and instead of being the divine Son of God, and King of the Jews, He was nothing but an ordinary man, convicted of treason and punished as a common malefactor.
What they must have endured during the three days of His absence it is not hard for us to imagine. Hopelessness, despair, the loss of confidence in themselves and of prestige among their friends; the cause for which they had been so ready to dedicate themselves, as they walked with Christ from place to place in the Holy Land, had ended and collapsed. Their Leader was discredited.
Then something happened to alter the whole trend of their thought. All that had been lost of confidence and hope and purpose was restored, and the first few centuries of the Christian history (before theology gave a turn to interpretation, and so altered the Gospel of love into a cult of separation) reveal to us a company of men and women full of confidence, enthusiasm and courage, ready to face persecution and death as eager missionaries. What had given them this new character?
Not long before, some of them had fled in dismay at the first threat of personal danger. When Jesus was crucified they had lost the last glimmer of hope that he might prove to be the Christ. When he was placed in the tomb, Christianity was dead and buried too.
Now we meet these same men and women a few weeks later and they are utterly changed. It is not that there is some faint return of hope among a few of them. All are completely certain that Jesus is indeed the Christ. What has happened to cause this transformation?
Their answer is unanimous: on the third day he rose from the dead. "Christ is risen," is their cry, and because He has risen the kingdom of God can go forward upon earth, and His message of love can be widely distributed. They know now, past all controversy, that He has overcome death, and that in the years that lie ahead they will see death as vanquished.
That they expected an immediate kingdom and that they looked to see the fact of immortality universally recognized is evident from their writings and their enthusiasm. That they were mistaken, nearly two thousand years of Christianity has proved. We are not yet citizens of that divine kingdom definitely manifesting upon earth, for the fear of death is as strong as ever, and the fact of immortality is still but a source of speculation to millions.
But it was their sense of time that was at fault, and their failure to understand the slow processes of nature. Evolution moves slowly, and it is only today that we are truly on the verge of the demonstration of God's kingdom upon earth.
Because this is the end of an age, we know that before long the hold death has on the human being, and the terror which the angel of death inspires, will disappear. They will vanish because we shall regard death as only another step on the way towards light and life, and shall realize that, as the Christ life expresses itself in and through human beings, they will demonstrate to themselves, and in the world, the reality of immortality.
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