Mormons believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that on Friday, sometime just prior to sundown (the start of the Jewish Sabbath), Christ died on the cross at Calvary. We believe that after his death, the spirit of Jesus continued to live in a place the scriptures refer to as the world of the spirits. We believe that sometime Sunday morning, the spirit of Jesus Christ re-entered his mortal body, and his spirit and physical body became one; united for eternity.
The Mormon Scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants give a good definition of the resurrection:
“Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead. And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.” (D&C 88:14-16)
Most of you know that I was a full-time missionary in Pennsylvania for two years. During that time I talked to thousands of people—of all different races, religious beliefs, and cultural backgrounds—concerning the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I discovered that even though all Christians believe that Christ was resurrected, it is one of the most misunderstood religious doctrines! To my surprise, many Christians do not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ: they believe that it was a ‘spiritual’ event, not an actual event with eternal consequences.
Most Christians I have spoken to believe that after a person dies he goes directly to heaven or hell. They believe that after death, the spirit is finally released from the bondage of this mortal body, and goes directly to heaven to enjoy eternal bliss, or down to hell, to be punished. This is where their problem with the resurrection begins: if we go directly to heaven after death, what need is there for the resurrection?
The reason most Christians believe they go directly to heaven after death is because they believe that God is a spirit, and lives in a spiritual realm. Think about it…if a person went to live with a God (who is a spirit), in a heaven (which exists in a spiritual realm), still having their physical body of flesh and bones…he would be completely out of place! It would be like a ghost who is forced to live in this mortal world—only reversed!
But the problem remains: if God is a spirit, living in a spiritual realm, and we go directly to heaven after we die, what is the purpose of the resurrection? Did God have Jesus resurrect his physical body, just to leave it again to enter heaven?
This same problem comes up when reading about the resurrection of Jesus. Most Christians believe that God is a spirit. Since God and Christ are one, this must also mean that Christ is a spirit. After all, if God is a spirit and Jesus has a physical body, how do they live in the same world? It just couldn’t work!
This belief that both God and Jesus are spirits causes many problems: if God and Christ are spirits, then what did Christ do with his physical body after his resurrection? And if God and Christ have no need of a physical body after this life, why would men need their bodies? And if none of us need a physical body, what was the purpose of coming to earth, and why was there a need for the resurrection? As you can see, this scenario creates many more questions than answers!
To help people get a clear understanding of exactly what the resurrection is, I would then share with them this scripture that describes Christ’s first appearance to his Apostles after his resurrection:
“And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace [be] unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
“And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 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. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them [his] hands and [his] feet.
“And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
“And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took [it], and did eat before them. (Luke 24:36-43)
It is clear from this scripture that the Apostles themselves believed that the resurrected Christ was a spirit! But Jesus wanted to make sure these witnesses of his resurrection knew the truth: that he was not a spirit, but a real person of flesh and bones. He even made them each, one by one, come and touch him; and then he ate with them, just to prove that he was real, and not just a ghost or an apparition.
Jesus had the exact same body after his resurrection as he had before he died; the only difference was that he could not longer die—his spirit and body had united, never to be separated again—and his body would soon be perfected and glorified. From that moment on, his spirit and body remained united. If you and I were to see Christ today, he would look the same as he did when the Apostles saw him 2,000 years ago; because he still has that same physical body of flesh and bones that he resurrected from the tomb!
In spite of my efforts, most people still clung to their belief that God was a spirit, and so Christ also must also be a spirit. They rationalized away the scriptural account by saying that Jesus simply appeared to them with a physical body to show them he was real, but then immediately left his physical body behind when he went to live with God. There was simply no way to reconcile a God who was a spirit, living with the Son of God in the same realm, having a body of flesh and bones!
Mormons do not have any problems understanding or believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is because we believe that God the Father also has a body of flesh and bones, and that heaven is a real place.
All Mormon doctrine concerning God and the resurrection springs from what we call the First Vision:
When Joseph Smith was just 14 years old (when teenagers tend to question everything…), he began to question not only the religion of his parents, but religion in general. His mother was of one faith, and his father of another, and there were a number of different sects of religion in their town. As it happened, there was even a religious revival of sorts going on around him at that time. It was the perfect setting for him to search for the truth concerning the existence of God and the meaning of life.
Not long after he began his search for the truth, he discovered there was a problem: there was so much disagreement and contention between the various religious sects, there was no way he could decide for himself who was right.
He decided he had only one choice left open to him: he had to attempt to ask God directly for an answer to his questions! So one spring morning Joseph Smith went into the woods behind his home and prayed for an answer. To his surprise, like the martyr Stephen, and like Paul the Apostle, he received a vision of God:
Joseph saw God the Father and his son Jesus Christ. They spoke to him and answered his questions. In that moment, Joseph Smith learned more about the nature of God and Christ than was known by the most learned theologian of the time:
He learned that God really existed; that He was a real person, not just an ‘essence’ floating out in the universe. God the Father had a body of flesh and bones, just as tangible as man’s, only perfected and glorified.
He learned that Jesus Christ still lived, and that he also was a real person, separate and distinct from his Father. Jesus had actually resurrected his earthly body, and still had that body of flesh and bones; though, like his Father, it was glorified and perfected.
He understood that since Jesus was literally resurrected, the resurrection of all mankind must be literal as well. All men and women who come to this earth will die; but all will be reunited with their physical bodies in the resurrection. Then they will be judged and sent to live on a world worthy of their actions in this life.
Joseph recognized that if God and Christ were real, tangible persons, they must live on a real, tangible world. Heaven was no longer a mysterious place in a spiritual realm, but a real world in a real universe filled with real people!
One of the reasons the Book of Mormon is so popular is because it clarifies so many doctrines, such as the one we are discussing. This section of the Book of Mormon was written by a Prophet living in South America (yes, that South America) prior to the birth of Jesus in Jerusalem:
“Behold, my beloved brethren, I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children.
“For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God.
“Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.
“For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
“Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement--save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
“O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
“And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
“And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave.
“And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.
“O how great the plan of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.
“Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.
“And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God.
“And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.
“O the greatness and the justice of our God! For he executeth all his words, and they have gone forth out of his mouth, and his law must be fulfilled.
“But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
“O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.
“O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.
“And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.” (2 Nephi 9: 3-22)
Most Christians have problems understanding the resurrection of our physical bodies because they believe God is a spirit, and lives in a spiritual realm. But Mormons have no issues with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or our own resurrection in the future. We believe that Christ was resurrected and that he continues to live with a glorified and perfected physical body of flesh and bones. We believe that in the future we will all be resurrected and have our physical bodies returned to us. Then we will be judged and sent to live on a real, tangible world. Whether or not we have the opportunity to live within the same realm as God is determined by how we live in this life.
One of the reasons that Mormons have such a strong belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ is because we have modern-day witnesses that have actually seen Him! Their witness of the reality of God make the scriptures come alive for each of us; because as we read about the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have an additional assurance of the truth of what we read.
Well, that is my sermon for the day! Have a happy Easter!