Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance…
This inspired writer teaches us that these ancient saints were believers in a resurrection to eternal life. It is strange that this should ever be doubted. It seems clear they were, when we think of the very instinct of the spiritual life — of such expressions as those of David: "I shall, be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness" — or of the language of Martha and Mary when they were still standing on Old Testament ground: "I know that He shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Their faith could not have the certainty and clearness which ours should have; but that they did look forward to a life to come there can be no question. They gave the best evidence of their faith, for they submitted to the most cruel tortures and to death, that they might obtain a better resurrection. But what are we to understand by a better resurrection? If we look to the first clause of the verse we shall see, "Women received their dead raised to life again." This was one kind of resurrection — a restoration to the life of this world — and to achieve it was a great triumph of faith. But there is another and superior resurrection — to the life of the eternal world and the faith which carries men to this is of a nobler kind, because it is more difficult. There are, then, two spheres of faith — that of those whose dead were brought back to a resurrection in this life, and that of those who pressed on for truth's sake to a better resurrection in the heavenly life.
I. THE BETTER RESURRECTION. Imagine to yourselves an event you must in all likelihood meet, or which many of you may already have passed through, when some object of your dearest affection has been torn from you by death. There is the utter blank of desolation — the light of the eyes in which you could read tenderness and truth, quenched — no counsel or comfort, where you could always find it, however sore bestead. And if there came, in that day of darkness, One who gave you back your dead to be with you, to listen to your history of grief — of this very grief — to take your hand in His again, and make you feel He was yours as before — more than before — what could you ask, what could you think of, better than this? And yet if we could for a little rise above feeling, and appeal to reason — the reason which comes of faith — we might see that there is a better resurrection.
1. For think of the place of it. However quiet and happy the home might be to which the earthly life was brought back, it was part of a world which was smitten with the curse. Cares and fears and dangers and griefs were always ready to invade it. And, if we think of the body as the place to which the soul is brought back, it is a home that has also the curse resting on it, subject to pain and disease, which often make death to be chosen rather than life — to long torturing agonies, and to those strange depressions which cloud the soul, so that to those who look out at the windows everything is darkened. It is otherwise with the place of the better resurrection (see Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:3-5.) And the body which here depresses the soul shall be framed to lift it up, to give it perception and vigour, insight and wing, made like unto Christ's glorious body.
2. Then think, by way of comparison, of the company in the place. In the case of all those who were raised again to life in this world, we find that they were restored to the family circle — the child of the Shunammite and the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain and the brother of Martha and Mary. There was an anxiety, if I may so speak, to surround them with their nearest friends when they opened their eyes again, that the first faces they looked on might be those of kindred — of father, mother, brother, sister. It was a merciful arrangement, to break the strange transition, to soothe the agitated, wondering spirit. But there was surely something more in it than this. It was, I think, also predictive. For if these resurrections, as a whole, were intended to help men to the faith of a power stronger than death, they were also intended to lead us to something of the manner of the life beyond. Do they not shadow out this truth, that God will begin our life again among those we have known and loved, and cause us to open our eyes in the bosom of what we shall feel to be a family and a home, with faces round us that are dear and familiar, and voices whose tones we know, ready to reassure us? God will "set the solitary in families," and in some way broken household ties will be re-knit "in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound." Only there will be something better in it. The feeling of sad distrust which sometimes comes over us, as if the truest human friendship had an element of selfishness in it, shall pass away. What we gain here, at intervals, in some chosen crisis of our life — the meeting of souls in one, and profound, untroubled trust in the sense of it — shall then be a fixed condition.
3. Think, then, of the essence of this eternal life. Its essence consists in its entire freedom from sin. The presence of sin in our nature is at the root of every ether evil, and deliverance from suffering in heaven is connected with perfect deliverance from sin. That must be a happy condition when all. shall feel the blessedness of the man whose iniquity is forgiven, and the subject which often causes anxious thought, "Can I look to God as my Friend and Father?" shall be settled for perpetuity — no doubt, nor shadow of a doubt, upon it — but quietness and assurance for ever. And when there shall not only be no guilt on the conscience, but no sin in the heart, no lurking sympathy with it, but every fibre of the root of poison extracted, and the tree of life shall find its counterpart in the perfect fruit of every redeemed soul!
4. But we have to think also of the security of this state. These resurrections of earth were a return to a world of change and death. But the children of the heavenly resurrection "die no more; death hath no more dominion over them." The shadow is all behind, the light before, and the light shall no more go down.
5. There is one thing more, without which the thought of this better resurrection would be incomplete — the presence to which it introduces. The best of these other resurrections brought their subjects into the earthly presence of the Son of God; but this, into His heavenly fellowship.
II. THE HIGHER FAITH REQUIRED FOR THIS RESURRECTION. It needed very great confidence in the living God to believe that He could reanimate the dead frame which the soul had quitted for a few hours or days; but to face entire decay and mouldering dust, and to believe that those who sleep in it shall yet awake and sing — this requires a frame of soul still nobler.
1. It needs more of what I may call the patience of faith. We must endure the scorn of unbelievers, the talk of unchanging earthly laws rolled like the great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and must listen to the taunts of those who rejoice most when they think they hear the iron gates of a materialistic universe grate in upon the grave as an eternal prison. We have to struggle with the murmurs of our own hearts, that it is hard in God to put us to so long and so sore an encounter.
2. It needs also more of what we may call the sanctified imagination of faith. The circle of these earthly resurrections was very narrow and very simple compared with that which we expect. Their faith had only to bring back their dead to the old accustomed house, the well-known seat, the familiar haunts. Ours has to win out a footing for itself from the void and formless infinite, where the scenes and inhabitants and states of mind are so different that our friends seem to have passed away beyond our knowledge. There is an imagination of faith, not unbridled nor unscriptural, which has formed for itself a true and real world beyond death, which gives substance to things hoped for, and thereby helps to the evidence of things not seen. the Bible has encouraged it by its figures — "the tree of life," "the river of life," "the city of gold," "the Father's house of many mansions" — and imagination has no nobler work than to enter among these visions, and brood and muse till they become a palpable and real world: and till those who are not, because God has taken them, are seen walking there.
3. It needs more of the spiritual insight of faith. The faith of those who received their dead back to the present life had a visible Helper with wonder-working power standing before them. Our faith has not such aid. It has a harder, but a nobler work. It must seek to live as seeing Him who is invisible. It must rest for its ultimate foundation, not on any outward sign, not even on any uttered word as spoken to the ear, but on the nature of God Himself, and the life He infuses into the soul — on that basis which Christ has given it, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Christ Himself must be known to us in His ever-living, spiritual power.
III. SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY STRENGTHEN OURSELVES IN THIS HIGHER FAITH.
1. The first thought is one addressed to your reason. We read here of men who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. They surrendered all that life holds dear, and life itself, from loyalty to the God of truth. Not only is the Bible full of this, but the course of history. The noble army of the martyrs is seen in every age, marching on, by scaffold and through fire, into the unseen. Can you imagine that their self-devotion was founded on delusion, and that God has made His world so that the noblest and divinest deeds in its history have a perpetual falsehood at their heart?
2. The next thought is one addressed to your heart. "Women received their dead raised to life again."! Observe the expression, "Women — their dead." That side of human nature which has the deepest affection is clinging to its dead, claiming an abiding right of possession in them, and aiding faith to draw its lost treasure back to its arms. And it is a striking truth that in all the resurrections of which we read there was not only strong faith, but deep love — the love of woman. God intended that our deepest heart affections should be the helpers of our highest hopes, and the instinctive guarantees of a life to come. We have a right to reason that He would either have made our love less deep and lasting, or that there must be a final home in which its longings shall be realised. Every pure affection points us towards a city in the skies; every happy Christian home is a pledge of it; every bereaved heart is a Divine reason for it. A ground this why you should make your family ties so loyal and sacred that they shall keep your dead still yours, and bind you irrevocably to a life to come.
3. The last way we mention of confirming ourselves in this faith is addressed to the spirit. It is gained by the exercise of that spiritual insight to which we have already referred, leading the way to a spiritual life. The object of this sight, and the source of this life, is described by the sacred writer in words that follow — "Looking unto Jesus," etc. Reasoning about immortality may lead us so far, and the instinct of the heart may lead us further; but I know of no certainty save what grows from union with the dying and risen and living Son of God. There is a spring of immortality not only welling out from the throne of God, but ready to rise up in every heart that will admit Him who is the true God and eternal life. It is this faith entering into the soul as a vital principle which formed those ancient martyrs, who counted it all joy to face suffering and shame, and to meet death, when the God of truth summoned them.
(J. Ker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: