This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Hope of Holy Week". See series.
At Westminster Abbey in London there is an impressive monument to G. F. Handel, sculpted by the Frenchman Louis-Francois Roubiliac. The great composer stands against a tableau of musical instruments, holding a sheet of music that reads: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."
Handel's monument is doubly appropriate. First, it preserves in stone the memory of one of the sweetest melodies from Messiah, the composer's greatest masterpiece. But more than that, it expresses Handel's only hope of immortality. There is in the soul of every man a desire to live forever in the presence of God. But not even Handel's music—as great as it is—can make him truly immortal. Eternal life only comes from the Redeemer Jesus Christ, who is alive by the power of his resurrection, and who has promised to make every believer see the glory of God.
The resurrection of Christ was mentioned already in Part II of Messiah, with a promise from Psalm 16: "But thou didst not leave his soul in hell, nor didst thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption." The oratorio proceeded to describe the Messiah's ascension to heaven, followed by the extension of his kingdom. The work seemed to reach its musical and theological climax at the end of Part II, with the famous Hallelujah Chorus: "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever."
The Messiah's work is not finished, however. If his people are to join the everlasting song, they too must be raised from the dead. Thus Part III of Messiah celebrates the bodily resurrection of God's people, including their justification at God's throne and their glorification of the Lamb.
The divine Redeemer
It is sometimes suggested that the Old Testament has no doctrine of the resurrection. If this were true, it would not be surprising, for God did not reveal the glory of his resurrection power until he raised Jesus from the dead. Yet the Old Testament contains many hints of God's plan to raise his people from the dead. One of the strongest comes from the life of Job, who spoke from the very depths of human suffering: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27).
The first question to ask about these verses is, Who is Job's redeemer? Some English translations answer this question by capitalizing the word "Redeemer," thereby indicating that Job's redeemer was God himself. However, the Hebrew original does not use capital letters, and thus the identity of the redeemer remains a matter for interpretation.
In biblical times, a redeemer was someone who rescued a victim from poverty or slavery. For example, if a man became so poor that he had to sell his property to pay his debts, his redeemer would buy it back for him (Leviticus 25:23-28). Or again, if he had to sell himself into slavery, his redeemer would pay the price to release him from bondage (Leviticus 25:47-53; cf. Hosea 3). The redeemer was also required to raise up an heir for a widow, and to avenge the blood of a murder victim. These redemptive responsibilities always belonged to one's next-of-kin; hence the term is sometimes translated "kinsman-redeemer." The most famous example is Boaz, who redeemed his close relative Naomi from poverty by marrying her daughter-in-law Ruth and producing an heir.
If anyone needed a redeemer, it was Job. The poor man had lost everything he had: his donkeys, his sheep, his camels, his children—everything. He had lost all these things, not because he was a sinner, but because he was righteous. God allowed Satan to torment Job in order to prove his faithfulness. Job himself had no idea why he was suffering, but he knew that he was righteous. Therefore, he longed for someone to come and vindicate him. He wanted someone to take up his case, to serve as his legal representative in order to restore his reputation. But Job's problem was that there was no one to redeem him—certainly no one from his own family. "My kinsmen have gone away," he lamented (Job 19:14a). "I am loathsome to my own brothers" (Job 19:17b).
Job's many sufferings brought him near to the point of desperation, yet rather than giving in to despair, he made this remarkable statement of faith: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth" (Job 19:25). With these words he expressed his abiding hope and firm confidence in a divine redeemer. "My redeemer lives"—this would be an odd statement to make about someone who was merely human. By definition, a redeemer is a living, breathing human being. But Job's statement makes perfect sense if it is applied to the one who is called "the living God" (1 Samuel 17:26). God is the one who will stand up for Job at the very end to defend him and deliver him. He is the only one who could, for what other redeemer could live to the end of time? The reason Job claimed that his Redeemer lived was because his living redeemer was and is the living God.
It is not at all surprising for God to be called "Redeemer," for this title is often given to him in Scripture. David cried out, "O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14). Isaiah said, "Our Redeemer—the Lord Almighty is his name—is the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 47:4). Asaph looked back to the Exodus, when the people of Israel learned "that God Most High was their Redeemer" (Psalm 78:35; cf. Exodus 6:6). Their deliverance from slavery in Egypt taught them to sing, "with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption" (Psalm 130:8).
Although it is not unusual for God to be called "Redeemer," it is somewhat surprising to hear this title come from the lips of Job. This is because Job's chief complaint was that God had turned against him. His reasoning went something like this: "I am innocent; nevertheless I am suffering; therefore, God must be to blame." It seemed so unfair that Job longed for someone to plead his case and defend him from injustice:
He [God] is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court. If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God's rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more (Job 9:32-34).
Gradually, Job began to realize that the only thing that could save him from God's judgment was God's grace. So he started looking for help from heaven itself: "Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend" (Job 16:19-21).
Even when he felt like God was the problem, Job realized that ultimately God was the answer. At the same time that he was tormented by what seemed to be God's rejection, he also trusted in God's redemption. This is how one commentator describes his paradoxical situation:
Job is beseeching the God in whom he has faith to help him against the God who is punishing him. While this view seems irrational, this paradox lies at the core of Job's struggle. These two conflicting views of God are at war in his own mind. Although he believes that God is just, he is overwhelmed by God's punishing power as manifested in his suffering. But he reaches beyond his experience of God's wrath to state his trust in God, who will in time secure his acquittal and who will also accomplish his deliverance from suffering.
In a way that goes beyond what Job was able fully to comprehend at that time, this paradox ultimately is resolved in the person and work of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that God's mercy and justice embrace. God the Son became a man in order to bridge the gap between humanity and deity. When God became a man of flesh and blood, in the person of Jesus Christ, he entered the family of humanity. This made Jesus eligible to serve as our kinsman-redeemer. By virtue of the fact that he is our close relative, he is able to come to our defense. Therefore, Jesus is the arbitrator Job was looking for, someone who could lay his hand upon both man and God. Jesus is the witness Job was looking for, someone to testify in his behalf. Jesus is the advocate Job was looking for, someone to stand up and plead his case before the bar of heaven. In a word, Jesus is the Redeemer.
Jesus accomplished this redemption by dying on the cross for sinners. "In him we have redemption through his blood" (Ephesians 1:7). It was on the cross that Jesus paid the purchase price to release us from our slavery to sin. It was on the cross that Jesus reconciled us to God's family, restoring us to the Father's love. It was on the cross that Jesus avenged the mortal blow we received when Satan first tempted us to sin. Thus John Newton concluded, "
There is no name of Messiah more significant, comprehensive, or endearing, than the name Redeemer. The name of Saviour expresses what he does for sinners. He saves them from guilt and wrath, from sin, from the present evil world, from the powers of darkness, and from all their enemies. He saves them with an everlasting salvation. But the word 'Redeemer' intimates likewise the manner in which he saves them. For it is not merely by the word of his power, … but by price, by paying a ransom for them, and pouring out the blood of his heart, as an atonement for their sins."
The resurrection of the Redeemer
In order for Jesus to be our Redeemer, first he had to die on the cross for our sins. But in order to become our living Redeemer, he also had to rise from the dead. Redemption is a matter of resurrection as well as crucifixion. In the words of the great Easter hymn, "Jesus, Lord, Redeemer, once for sinners slain, crucified in weakness, raised in pow'r to reign."
Job had put his trust in the risen Redeemer. He was looking forward to the future, imagining what would happen after his death, as the next verse clearly indicates ("After my skin has been destroyed"). It was his firm and certain conviction that at the very last, his living Redeemer would stand upon the earth. The scene appears to come from a court of law, where a counselor would stand to make his closing arguments. Job was confident that someday, perhaps at the final judgment, his Redeemer would rise to his defense, and that his trial would end in acquittal.
What is true of Job's Redeemer is true of Jesus Christ: He will be the last man standing. At the end of history, when he returns to earth in all his glory, Jesus will stand in judgment. On that last day he will redeem his people. On "the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30), as the Bible calls it, Jesus will stand up to plead his own sinless sacrifice as the price of our salvation. Everyone who belongs to him by faith will be cleared of all charges.
In order to do all that, Jesus had to rise from the dead, which is why it can be said, in some mysterious way, that Job had faith in a risen Redeemer. Even though he had never seen God incarnate, he had put his confidence in a Redeemer who would be alive at the end of history, standing on the earth in some kind of physical form. The name of Job's living, standing Redeemer is Jesus Christ, who came back from the grave on the first Easter Sunday. Three days earlier, Christ's corpse had been taken down from the cross. Battered and bloodied, it was wrapped in a sheet and laid in a tomb. But on the third day, by the power of God's Holy Spirit, Jesus was raised in a glorious body of immortal splendor.
Make no mistake: the resurrection body of the risen Christ was and is a real body. To be sure, it was a glorious body; it radiated with the light of God's glory. It was also a supernatural body; after his resurrection Jesus was able to move instantaneously from one place to another. Nevertheless, it was a real, physical body, a body his disciples could see and touch. Thus Christians have always confessed their faith in "the resurrection of the body."
The early church fathers emphasized the physical reality of the risen Messiah by speaking of "the resurrection of the flesh." Writing in the second century, Irenaeus said, "The Church [believes] … in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; … and the resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord …" Similarly, Epiphanius wrote, "For the Word became flesh ….[T]he same suffered in the flesh; rose again; and went up to heaven in the same body, sat down gloriously at the right hand of the Father; is coming in the same body in glory to judge the quick and the dead." Justin Martyr asked, "Why did he rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh?" "When He had thus shown them that there is truly a resurrection of the flesh, wishing to show them this also, that it it not impossible for flesh to ascend into heaven …. 'He was taken up into heaven while they beheld,' as He was in the flesh."
The church has always believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. What do you believe? Job was convinced that he served a living Redeemer. He knew him personally, calling him "my Redeemer," and he trusted him absolutely, believing that he would save him to the very end. To follow his example is to know Jesus Christ as your Redeemer.
The resurrection of the redeemed
If Jesus Christ is your Redeemer, then the resurrection of his body guarantees the resurrection of your body. Already in Job's case, there was a connection between the life of the Redeemer and life after death. It was because he trusted his living Redeemer that Job was able to say, "though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."
This text was familiar to Charles Jennens because it formed part of the Burial Service in the Book of Common Prayer. Despite its familiarity, the verse is difficult to translate. Roger Bullard claims, "The Hebrew text is here in a bad state of disrepair, and it is very difficult indeed to extract sense from it." Richard Luckett refers to the translation used in Messiah as "a highly conjectural reconstruction of perhaps the most obscure piece of Hebrew in the whole of the Old Testament." Even John Newton admitted, "The learned are far from being agreed, either in the translation, or in the explanation, of this text.""."=
The main difficulty is that the original Hebrew says nothing about worms, yet the basic sense of the verse has been preserved. Job clearly is speaking about his own death and resurrection. First, he mentions the decomposition of his body. In the most graphic terms, he describes how his skin will be peeled away from his bones. Here it is important to remember that at the time Job spoke these words, his skin and his bones were about all he had left! His body was covered with painful sores, which is why he had complained, "I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth" (Job 19:20). As bad as things were, Job knew that eventually they were going to get worse. One day he would die, and then even his skin and his bones would waste away.
Then, by faith, Job looked beyond the dust of death to the day when he would see the face of God. He was confident that he would behold his living Redeemer with his own two eyes. But in order for this to happen, he first would have to be raised from the dead. It was in his flesh that he would see God. Thus, the kind of life after death he hoped for required a bodily resurrection. This is how Jerome translated Job's confession of faith when he wrote the Latin Vulgate: "For I know that my redeemer lives and that on the last day I will be raised from earth; and I will again be surrounded by my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God; whom I myself will see, and my eyes will behold, and not another; this hope is fixed in my breast."
Everything Job hoped for depended on the risen Redeemer. It was only because he knew that his Redeemer lived that Job knew that he would live to see God for himself. This is the logic of the resurrection: First the resurrection of the Redeemer; then the resurrection of the redeemed.
In order to explain this connection further, Jennens employed a text from the apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man" (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). These verses assert the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a plain fact of history. It is a fact confirmed by many reliable witnesses and recorded in the pages of Holy Scripture. The same Jesus who died on the cross for sins and was buried in a rich man's tomb, was also raised on the third day: "For now is Christ risen from the dead." But his resurrection was only the beginning, so Paul goes on to call him "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." In other words, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the beginning of God's great resurrection harvest.
The idea of the firstfruits comes from the Old Testament. On the day after the Passover Sabbath, the first sheaf of grain was presented at the temple in Jerusalem (Leviticus 23:9-14). It was a way to honor God, to acknowledge that every good gift comes from God. It was also a way to consecrate the harvest, to offer every field and orchard back to God in praise. That first sheaf of grain was part of the harvest, but in a way it represented the whole harvest. The firstfruits held the promise of all the fruit that would be gathered during harvest time.
So it is with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (that is to say, of those who are deceased). Christ was the first to rise, but only the first, for his resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection. Though the two resurrections take place at two different times—Christ was raised on the first Easter Sunday; we will be raised on the Day of Judgment—they cannot be separated. They are both yielded by one resurrection harvest. This is how the Swiss theologian Frederic Godet explained the analogy: "Christ risen is to the multitude of believers who shall rise again at His Advent what a first ripe ear, gathered by hand, is to the whole harvest." The resurrection of Christ is the pledge and proof of the resurrection of the church.
The reason our resurrection is part of his resurrection is because Christ was raised as our representative. The Bible explains this by drawing a comparison between our solidarity with Adam and our union with Christ. Whereas once we inherited death from Adam, physically but also spiritually, now we receive eternal life through Christ. "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; cf. Romans 5:12-19). When the Bible says that "all will be made alive," it does not mean that everyone will be saved. What it does mean is that everyone who is in Christ will be raised to everlasting life. Augustine wrote: "No human enters into death except through Adam and no one into eternal life except through Christ …. Therefore he says 'all' in both places because as all who die die only in Adam, so all who will be made alive will not be made alive except in Christ."
The life Christ gives is eternal life. Everyone who comes to him in faith receives new spiritual life that will last for all eternity. It is more than spiritual, however, for on the day of resurrection God will give his people glorious new bodies. There will be no wrinkles in heaven. There will be no paralysis, deafness, or blindness. There will not be any kind of infirmity or deformity, for God has promised that one day "the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21; cf. Romans 8:23).
Earlier we noted that the early church Fathers often described the resurrection of Christ as "the resurrection of the flesh." They used the same terminology to describe the resurrection of the Christian. To quote again from Irenaeus, "Inasmuch as Christ did rise in our flesh, it follows that we shall be also raised in the same; since the resurrection promised to us should not be referred to spirits naturally immortal, but to bodies in themselves mortal." Justin Martyr taught that "the resurrection is a resurrection of the flesh which dies." For God "has even called the flesh to the resurrection, and promises to it everlasting life. For where He promises to save man, there He gives the promise to the flesh." Centuries later, Rufins wrote, "We believe that it is this very flesh in which we are now living which will rise again, not one kind of flesh instead of another, nor another body than the body of this flesh."
To see this Redeemer
It is especially significant that Job should believe in the resurrection of the body because he had endured such painful physical torment. His skin was so itchy and sore that he could well imagine that one day it would shrivel away altogether. He longed for the day when his flesh would be restored. Everyone who has suffered physical deterioration has experienced the same longing.
Yet Job had an even deeper longing, a longing that could not be satisfied merely by his resurrection in the flesh. He longed to see God. Somewhere deep in his heart he yearned to have face-to-face contact with his living Redeemer. "How my heart yearns within me!" Job is quoted as saying, although the Hebrew word for heart actually refers to the man's intestines. Job's desire to see God was intense, visceral. It is shared by everyone who wants to know God and to be known by him.
The Holy Spirit revealed to Job that one day his longing would be satisfied. "I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another" he said (Job 19:27). This promise appears not only in Job, but also in many other places in the Bible. "For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face" (Psalm 11:7). "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8). "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).
One man who had supreme confidence in the resurrection of the body and the visible glory of Jesus Christ was the Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Boston. When Boston was a young boy, playing in the church cemetery, he happened upon an open grave. There, to his unforgettable horror, he saw a blackened corpse. He later wrote that this experience helped him "perceive what a loathsome thing my body must at length become before it be reduced to dust." The experience also gave Boston a deep yearning for the resurrection of the body, a yearning that deepened when he had the sad misfortune to bury six of his ten children in infancy. In his Memoirs, Boston describes burying one of his newborn sons: "When the child was laid in the coffin, his mother kissed his dust. I only lifted the cloth off his face, looked on it, and covered it again, in confidence of seeing that body rise a glorious body."
As much as Thomas Boston longed to see his son in glory, he had an even more passionate longing. Like Job, he wanted to gaze upon the Son of God. This is the way he imagined it:
[The saints] shall see Jesus Christ, God and man, with their bodily eyes, as He will never lay aside the human nature. They will behold that glorious blessed body, which is personally united to the divine nature, and exalted above principalities and powers and every name that is named. There we shall see, with our eyes, that very body which was born of Mary at Bethlehem, and crucified at Jerusalem between two thieves: the blessed head that was crowned with thorns; the face that was spit upon; the hands and feet that were nailed to the cross; all shining with inconceivable glory. The glory of the man Christ will attract the eyes of all the saints.
Boston had the faith of Job. He knew that after his skin was destroyed, yet in his flesh he would see God. Everyone who trusts the living Redeemer has this same hope and this same assurance.
Philip Ryken is president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.