The Significance of the Resurrection
“Chapter 7: The Significance of the Resurrection,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, 61
As Christ lives after death, so shall all men, each taking that place in the next world for which he is best fitted. 1
In 1912, Elder David O. McKay, then a member of the Twelve, and his wife, Emma Ray, experienced their first great sorrow in parenthood when their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Royle, passed away. Elder McKay’s account of the event shows the heartache he felt but also demonstrates his faith in a future resurrection:
“Mon., 8 April 1912. O what a night of suffering for our darling boy! Every breath he drew seemed agony to him! The doctors examined him this morning, and discovered that his pain was due to pleurisy [inflammation of the lung] on both sides. At this we almost lost hope; but later when [the doctor] told us that by an examination he knew what germ had caused the infection and that he had the anti-toxin, we again took courage.
“But Royle was too weak and the complications of diseases too many. He battled bravely all day, taking the little stimulant given him at intervals as willingly as a grown person would. At 9:30 p.m., Papa, Thomas E. [McKay] and I again administered to him. Ray felt very hopeful, and lay down on the cot beside him for a little rest. Soon his little pulse weakened, and we knew that our baby would soon leave us. ‘Mama’ was the last word on his precious lips. Just before the end came, he stretched out his little hands, and as I stooped to caress him, he encircled my neck, and gave me the last of many of the most loving caresses ever a father received from a darling child. It seemed he realized that he was going, and wanted to say, ‘Goodbye, Papa,’ but his little voice was already stilled by weakness and pain. I am sure he recognized his Mama a moment later. She had rested only a few minutes; and noticing that the nurses were somewhat agitated, she was bending over her darling baby in a second and did not leave him until we gently led her from the room from which Death had taken our baby boy.
“The end came at 1:50 a.m., without even a twitch of a muscle. ‘He is not dead but sleepeth’ was never more applicable to any soul, for he truly went to sleep. He did not die.” 2
Teachings of David O. McKay
Jesus’ Apostles became witnesses of the reality of His Resurrection.
About two thousand years ago … there were some pretty gloomy apostles. Peter was heavy-hearted; John was grieving; as was Mary, Christ’s Mother. The other apostles had fled. Judas had realized what a crime he had committed. What a gloomy night!
Next morning Christ arose. … That being true, this event establishes the immortality of the soul, the existence of loved ones who are on the other side, their personality persisting. They are as real in that spiritual realm as Christ’s spirit when He preached to the spirits in prison. 3
Nearness to the event [of Jesus’ Resurrection] gives increased value to the evidence given by the Apostles. A deeper value of their testimony lies in the fact that with Jesus’ death the Apostles were stricken with discouragement and gloom. For two and a half years they had been upheld and inspired by Christ’s presence. But now he was gone. They were left alone, and they seemed confused and helpless. …
“What was it that suddenly changed these disciples to confident, fearless, heroic preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It was the revelation that Christ had risen from the grave. His promises had been kept, his Messianic mission fulfilled.” …
Mark does not himself recount any appearance of the risen Lord; but he testifies that the angel at the tomb announced the resurrection, and promised that the Lord would meet his disciples. From Mark we hear the glorious proclamation of the first empty tomb in all the world. For the first time in the history of man the words “Here lies” were supplanted by the divine message “He is risen.” No one can doubt that Mark was not convinced in his soul of the reality of the empty tomb. To him the resurrection was not questionable—it was real; and the appearance of his Lord and Master among men was a fact established in his mind beyond the shadow of a doubt. To the proclaiming of this truth he devoted his life, and if tradition can be relied upon, he sealed his testimony with his blood.
Another who records the testimony of eye witnesses was Luke, a Gentile, or, as some think, a proselyte of Antioch in Syria, where he followed the profession of physician. (Col. 4:14.) Even some of his most severe modern critics have placed him in the first rank of an historian, and his personal contact with early apostles makes his statements of inestimable value.
What he wrote was the result of personal inquiry and investigation, and was drawn from all available sources. Particularly he interviewed and recorded the declarations of those “who from the beginning were [eye] witnesses and ministers of the Word.” He avers that he “accurately traced all things from the very first,” so that he might “write them in order.” [See Luke 1:1–4.] This means that Luke obtained the testimony of these “eye witnesses” directly from themselves and not from previous narratives.
According to all trustworthy testimony, we have the Gospel of Luke as it came from his hand. In chapter 24, Luke testifies to the divine message: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” [Luke 24:5–6.]
With equal assurance as to their accuracy we can accept his statements and witness in regard to Peter’s and Paul’s and other apostles’ testimony regarding the resurrection. “To whom also Christ showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” [See Acts 1:3.] Who can doubt Luke’s absolute confidence in the reality of the resurrection?
It is true that neither Mark nor Luke testifies to having personally seen the risen Lord, and therefore, some urge that their recorded testimonies cannot be taken as first hand evidence. That they do not so testify, and yet were convinced that others did see Him, shows how incontrovertible was the evidence among the apostles and other disciples that the resurrection was a reality.
Fortunately, however, there is a document which does give the personal testimony of an eye witness to an appearance of Jesus after his death and burial. This personal witness also corroborates the testimony not only of the two men whom I have quoted but of others also. I refer to Saul, a Jew of Tarsus, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a strict Pharisee, and before his conversion a bitter persecutor of all who believed in Jesus of Nazareth as having risen from the dead. And now in the oldest authentic document in existence relating or testifying to the resurrection of Christ, we find Paul saying this to the Corinthians:
“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; and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve. After that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” [1 Corinthians 15:3–8.] 4
Worldly skepticism cannot negate the testimony of eyewitnesses.
Too many today are like the men on Mars’ Hill two thousand years ago who erected an altar to “The Unknown God,” but who knew little or nothing about him. We read that on his way to the Areopagus, Paul had beheld magnificent statues erected to various gods. … Here frequently gathered philosophers and judges, the ablest thinkers, the wisest sages of the ancient world, considering and discoursing on the mysteries of life and the destiny of the human race.
In the midst of all this worldly wisdom there stood a lonely little brown-eyed man who challenged much of their philosophy as false and their worship of images as gross error—the only man in that great city of intellectuals who knew by actual experience that a man may pass through the portals of death and live. … As Paul discoursed eloquently on the personality of God, the philosophers listened curiously though attentively until he testified that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
When they heard of the resurrection, some mocked and all but a few turned away, leaving him who had declared the truth even more lonely than ever. [See Acts 17:22–33.] Today, as on Mars’ Hill, when we speak of the resurrection of the dead, there are some who mock and others who doubt and turn away. Today, as then, too many men and women have other gods to which they give more thought than to the resurrected Lord. …
Establish it as a fact that Christ did take up His body and appeared as a glorified, resurrected Being, and you answer the question of the ages—“If a man dies, shall he live again?” [See Job 14:14.]
That the literal resurrection from the grave was a reality to the disciples who knew Christ intimately is a certainty. In their minds there was absolutely no doubt. They were witnesses of the fact. They knew because their eyes beheld, their ears heard, their hands felt the corporal presence of the risen Redeemer. 5
That the spirit of man passes triumphantly through the portals of death into everlasting life is one of the glorious messages given by Christ, our Redeemer. To him this earthly career is but a day and its closing but the setting of life’s sun. Death, but a sleep, is followed by a glorious awakening in the morning of an eternal realm. When Mary and Martha saw their brother only as a corpse in the dark and silent tomb, Christ saw him still a living being. This fact he expressed in two words: “… Lazarus sleepeth. …” (John 11:11.) If everyone … knew that the crucified Christ actually rose on the third day—that after having greeted others and mingled with others in the spirit world, his spirit did again reanimate his pierced body, and after sojourning among men for the space of forty days, he ascended a glorified soul to his Father—what benign peace would come to souls now troubled with doubt and uncertainty!
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands with Peter, with Paul, with James, and with all the other early apostles who accepted the resurrection not only as being literally true, but as the consummation of Christ’s divine mission on earth. 6
The latest and greatest confirmation that Jesus rose from the grave is the appearance of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith, nineteen hundred years after the event. … This miracle of life is significant not only in itself, but in its connotation of all the basic principles of true Christianity. 7
Christ’s Resurrection affirms the omnipotence of God and the immortality of man.
For over four thousand years, man had looked into the grave and had seen only the end of life. Of all the millions who had entered therein, not one person had ever returned as a resurrected, immortal being. “There was in all earth’s area, not one empty grave. No human heart believed; no human voice declared that there was such a grave—a grave robbed by the power of a Victor stronger than man’s great enemy, Death.”
It was, therefore, a new and glorious message that the angel gave to the women who fearfully and lovingly had approached the sepulcher in which Jesus had been buried: “… Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6.)
If a miracle is a supernatural event whose antecedent forces are beyond man’s finite wisdom, then the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most stupendous miracle of all time. In it stand revealed the omnipotence of God and the immortality of man.
The resurrection is a miracle, however, only in the sense that it is beyond man’s comprehension and understanding. To all who accept it as fact, it is but a manifestation of a uniform law of life. Because man does not understand the law, he calls it a miracle. 8
Resurrection and Spring are happily associated, not that there is anything in nature exactly analogous to the resurrection, but there is so much which suggests an AWAKENING thought. Like the stillness of death Old Winter has held all vegetable life in his grasp, but as Spring approaches the tender life-giving power of heat and light compels him to relinquish his grip, and what seems to have been dead comes forth in newness of life, refreshed, invigorated, strengthened after a peaceful sleep.
So it is with man. What we call death Jesus referred to as sleep. “Lazarus sleeps,” he said to his disciples [see John 11:11]. “The damsel sleepeth,” were his comforting words to the bereaved and sorrowing parents of a little girl [see Mark 5:39]. Indeed, to the Savior of the world there is no such thing as death—only life—eternal life. Truly he could say, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live.” [John 11:25.]
With this assurance, obedience to eternal law should be a joy, not a burden, for life is joy, life is love. … Obedience to Christ and his laws brings life. May each recurring Easter emphasize this truth, and fill our souls with the divine assurance that Christ is truly risen, and through him man’s immortality secured. 9
The faithful receive the comforting testimony of the Resurrection.
There is no cause to fear death; it is but an incident in life. It is as natural as birth. Why should we fear it? Some fear it because they think it is the end of life, and life often is the dearest thing we have. Eternal life is man’s greatest blessing.
If only men would “do his will” [see John 7:17], instead of looking hopelessly at the dark and gloomy tomb, they would turn their eyes heavenward and know that Christ is risen!
No man can accept the resurrection and be consistent in his belief without accepting also the existence of a personal God. Through the resurrection Christ conquered death and became an immortal soul. “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) was not merely an idle exclamation of Thomas when he beheld his risen Lord. Once we accept Christ as divine, it is easy to visualize his Father as being just as personal as he; for, said Jesus, “… he that hath seen me hath seen the Father. …” (John 14:9.) 10
As Christ lived after death so shall all men, each taking his place in the next world for which he has best fitted himself. The message of the resurrection, therefore, is the most comforting, the most glorious ever given to man, for when death takes a loved one from us, our sorrowing hearts are assuaged by the hope and the divine assurance expressed in the words:
Jesus passed through all the experiences of mortality just as you and I. He knew happiness, he experienced pain. He rejoiced as well as sorrowed with others. He knew friendship. He experienced, also, the sadness that comes through traitors and false accusers. He died a mortal death even as you will. Since Christ lived after death, so shall you, and so shall I. …
Jesus was the one perfect man who ever lived. In rising from the dead, he conquered death and is now Lord of the earth. How utterly weak, how extremely foolish is he who would willfully reject Christ’s way of life, especially in the light of the fact that such rejection leads only to unhappiness, misery, and even to death! …
When Christians throughout the world have this faith [in Jesus Christ] coursing in their veins, when they feel a loyalty in their hearts to the Resurrected Christ and to the principles connoted thereby, mankind will have taken the first great step toward the perpetual peace for which we are daily praying. 12
There are many so-called Christians who do not believe in the literal resurrection, and upon your shoulders and the shoulders of … others in this Church rests the responsibility of declaring to the world his divine Son-ship, his literal resurrection from the grave, and his appearance in person in the presence of the Father to the prophet Joseph Smith. 13
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• What evidence exists of the literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ? (See pages 62–64, 66.) How has your testimony of Jesus’ Resurrection been strengthened by the witness of His ancient and modern-day Apostles?
• In what ways does “worldly wisdom” attempt to dispute the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection? (See pages 64–65.)
• How is the doctrine of the Resurrection a fundamental part of the plan of salvation?
• President McKay taught that the Resurrection is a “manifestation of a uniform law of life” and that “Resurrection and Spring are happily associated.” In what ways is the Resurrection similar to spring? (See pages 66–67.) How might you use this analogy to help children understand the Resurrection?
• How can we gain or strengthen a testimony of the Resurrection? (See pages 67–68.) How does your testimony of the Resurrection influence the decisions you make? What other gospel principles are more easily understood after we have a testimony of the Resurrection?
• How does a knowledge of the Resurrection lessen the sorrow associated with death and help comfort those who mourn? (See pages 67–68.) What examples have you seen of people being strengthened in trials by their testimony of the Resurrection?
• Why is the existence of a resurrected God so important to mankind?