As Jesus was taken from the cross and lovingly prepared for burial following the customs of the Jews, His disciples wanted to protect His body from intrusion or harm. They wrapped His body with fresh linen, and a great stone was rolled into place to seal the doorway of the tomb (see Matt. 27:57–60). Three days later Jesus emerged victorious over death from the tomb. For the next 40 days He taught and ministered to His disciples in what must have been an intensely powerful experience, preparing them for His Ascension into heaven.
The Savior’s words during these 40 days provide a wonderful road map for us as we contemplate His assured triumphal return to earth. The Lord gave at least three highly significant messages to His Jerusalem disciples: (1) His Resurrection was real and all are inheritors of that wonderful gift; (2) His Atonement was completed, but there would be requirements for us to fully partake of its blessings; and (3) His disciples were responsible to carry the message of His gospel to the world.
The Reality of the Resurrection
To both believer and unbeliever, the evidence on the morning of the third day was compelling. The stone was rolled to the side. The dead Christ was no longer in the tomb. However, even with that evidence, the Lord chose to confirm His Resurrection in numerous glorious visitations. The first was to Mary Magdalene, who mourned outside the tomb. Two angels appeared to her and asked, “Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
“And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
“Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (John 20:13–16).
There is a great lesson to be learned from Mary Magdalene’s experience with the resurrected Lord. We learn that if we truly seek Him, if we truly want to know Him, we will find Him and know Him as He really is. Mary had become a disciple through conversion and had followed the Savior faithfully unto His death. By her own experience, she then knew that He was alive.
After this first confirmation of Christ’s Resurrection, others occurred. The risen Lord walked with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They spoke together of the rumored news of angels appearing and the Savior’s missing body. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” He asked the two disciples. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” and His Resurrection (Luke 24:26–27). The Savior then appeared to Simon Peter and afterward to the 11 Apostles and others. “Peace be unto you,” He said. “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:36, 39).
While all these confirmations of His Resurrection are of great value, perhaps the most graphic is the Savior’s appearance to Thomas and others eight days later. Thomas had doubted that Jesus was the resurrected Lord. “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands,” Jesus invited, “and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God” (John 20:27–28). With this confirmation, Thomas was also given a gentle but clear reproof: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Thomas’s experience carries a particular message for us. If we want to know sacred things and experience all of the rich blessings related to those sacred experiences, our faith must be stronger than our curiosity.
There were other remarkable confirmations of the Lord’s Resurrection, including His appearance, teachings, and meal with seven of His disciples on the shores of Galilee. “Lovest thou me?” was His question to Peter (see John 21:15–17). “Follow thou me” (John 21:22) was His command. By the time of His Ascension, there were no doubters of His immortality among His faithful disciples.
His Completed Atonement
The Savior was eager to help His disciples understand that while the Resurrection would be universal for all of Heavenly Father’s children, there was a difference between becoming immortal and inheriting eternal life. In John 14, the Savior had already explained the difference to them:
“In my Father’s house are many [kingdoms] 1 : if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
“And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:2–6).
Thomas’s question (see John 20:25) still lingers in the hearts of many of our Father’s children, and the Savior’s answer remains today the only answer: No son or daughter of our Heavenly Father will be able to return home to Him except by becoming a partaker of the Atonement of Christ. When the resurrected Lord taught the disciples in Galilee, He made it clear why all the world must hear the gospel: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Matthew further records the words of the Savior on this occasion:
“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).
Therefore, we must conclude that partaking of Christ’s Atonement for sin is conditional; it is dependent upon our being baptized and accepting His “way” and living His commandments. From the New Testament we learn that His way begins with a living faith in Jesus Christ as Redeemer of the world.
This kind of faith leads us to the covenant of baptism, when we take upon us His name and promise to keep His commandments. Other covenants follow. We learn, as evidenced by His early disciples, that our lives must be consistent with our covenants. Only then will we receive that peaceful assurance from the Holy Ghost that we can become partakers of the Savior’s Atonement. “John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost,” Jesus told His disciples (Acts 1:5). In the end all ordinances must be validated by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 132:7). It is only when the Lord’s Atonement is applied to us individually that we become free of our sins and worthy to enter the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Taking the Gospel Message to the World
On the shores of Galilee and on the Mount of Olives, the Savior gave the assignment or calling to His Apostles that they (and others whom they would call) should carry the message of resurrection and redemption to the world. The Lord first introduced the assignment with an inquiry, referring to the meal He proffered His disciples: “Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Jesus asked him a second time and received a similar response. Then He asked “the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).
These early disciples had to make a critical choice. Would fish and bread, or other earthly goods and materials, take priority over the matters of heart and soul that are required for those who seek eternal life? If they had let earthly things become top priority, it would have been difficult to accomplish the more critical task, that of teaching Heavenly Father’s children throughout the world—the spiritual feeding of His sheep.
Then just before His Ascension into heaven, the Lord repeated the call: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
As members of the Church and disciples of Christ, we must come to terms with this challenge today. At a time when the prophets of God have called all members to be missionaries to neighbors, to family members, and to those in distant lands, will we choose to feed the Savior’s sheep or will we choose the good but lesser part? The increasing numbers of prepared young men and women and senior couples engaged in full-time missionary work are a heartening testimony that there are many who understand and feel the call to serve. Many members remaining at home are increasingly joining the ranks of those who understand the need to teach the gospel at home as well as abroad. We are learning that disciples of Christ constantly look for ways to share this great message.
As we prepare for that future day when the Savior returns and reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords, these particular teachings take on increasing urgency. As we study the New Testament and pray for light and wisdom, we will be reassured of our divine origins. We will find great joy in the reality of resurrection, redemption, and exaltation through the Lord Jesus Christ. We will seek to carry the message to all, that our joy and their joy might be full and that we will all be able to partake of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ.
See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 331.