Sometimes you find things in the gospel that you have just taken for granted, but have never researched for yourself. It is just what you were taught, so you assume it to be true. For some, this is the case with the idea of the resurrection of Christ. I had been taught that Jesus resurrected Himself. It never occurred to me to go and find the references for that event on my own.
What I discovered when I did go hunting was a tangle of beliefs that are scattered all over the spectrum. Christians have such varying beliefs that I was astonished by the diversity of belief I found. I learned that much of their belief is based on their definition of God and their interpretation of the Bible. Even among Protestants belief in Christ and what He did varies widely.
I have included here quotes from a couple of Christian sources. One states there is no way Christ could have resurrected Himself, and the other claims uncategorically that Jesus raised himself from the dead. I have also included a list of resurrection verses from the scriptures and several references from Church leaders who have differing methods of discussing the subject.
The Good News – A Magazine of Understanding is published by the United Church of God. The first paragraph is only one of several reference paragraphs where they list verses that claim that someone other than Jesus resurrected him. The second paragraph explains the verses in John that “implies” that Jesus would bring himself back to life.
No dead person can resurrect Himself. Death is the complete absence of life and consciousness. Only someone alive and gifted with supernatural powers could have performed such a wondrous deed. The New Testament plainly reveals in many passages that it was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead.
For example, the apostle Peter stated in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts:2:32). Not long after, Peter repeated this vital testimony. He told the audience that they had “killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts:3:15). …
Yet Jesus did say, “Destroy this temple [referring to His body being slain], and in three days I will raise it up [implying His resurrection]” (John:2:19; see verse 21). Jesus did not mean by this that He would come back to life on His own, contradicting the other verses in this regard. Rather, He was referring to the fact that once God the Father made Him alive again in His tomb, He would stand up from where He lay dead—raising Himself from His lying position to then ascend from the grave.
The following two paragraphs come from an article from Come Reason Ministries. This is an apologetics article. They clearly believe that Jesus raised himself from the dead. They also include the belief that the other members of the Trinity (Godhead) had a hand it the process.
There are a couple of key verses where Jesus explicitly claims that He has the power over His own life. In John chapter 2, Jesus drives out the merchants and the moneychangers from the Temple and the Jewish religious leaders were incensed. They demanded to know what proof Jesus could offer to justify His judgment of spiritual propriety. Jesus responded “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John then clarifies Jesus’ statement and writes, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” Jesus reiterated His power over His own life and death in John 10:17 – 18 when He says, “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
It is clear that Jesus claimed to have the power to resurrect Himself. The Bible also claims that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, (see Acts 5:30, Galatians 1:1 among others) and that God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11, 1 Peter, 3:18). So we have all three persons of the Trinity involved in Jesus’ resurrection. Given the crucial aspect of the Resurrection to God’s plan, that is no surprise.
Before I list comments on Christ’s resurrection from modern apostles and get into a commentary about the issue, I think it would be good to read a few verses that talk about Christ’s resurrection. Notice that some have already been referenced, and there seem to be some contradictions as to who should get credit for the resurrection of Christ.
2 Nephi 2:8:
Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
Here we are told that Jesus used the power of the Spirit to resurrect Himself. In the verse below we are told that it was Jesus who broke the bands of death.
They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.
2 Timothy 1:10:
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:
The verse in 2 Timothy is a little vague as to who actually did the resurrecting. All it says is that Christ “brought life.” This doesn’t help us solve anything. In the next verse from the book of Romans, all we know is that “the glory of the Father” raised Christ. It doesn’t say who actually performed the resurrection.
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
From our understanding of priesthood keys through modern revelation, we know that he who has the keys controls all the rights of administration to the ordinances and powers of that thing. If Christ has the keys of death and hell then he has control over life and is the ultimate judge, because only the one who holds those keys can consign someone to hell. This verse is a pretty reasonable indication that Jesus could have resurrected himself.
And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
This verse makes it sound like Christ was in control of both his death and his own resurrection.
Words of the Prophets
In his Conference talk from April, 1982, entitled The Resurrection of Jesus, Elder Marion G. Romney states very clearly that Jesus “brought forth his own glorious resurrected body.” Yet in the next reference from the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie, he left the reference vague, saying that it was done “by the power of God.”
When we speak of Jesus being resurrected, we mean that his premortal spirit, which animated his mortal body from his birth in the manger until he died on the cross, reentered that body; and the two, his spirit body and his physical body, inseparably welded together, arose from the tomb an immortal soul.
Our belief is, and we so testify, that Jesus not only conquered death for himself and brought forth his own glorious resurrected body, but that in so doing he also brought about a universal resurrection. This was the end and purpose of the mission for which he was set apart and ordained in the great council in heaven, when he was chosen to be our Savior and Redeemer (Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, p 639).
Christ was the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23), and because of his resurrection, “by the power of God,” all men shall come forth from the grave (Mormon 9:13).
Doctrines of Salvation, Vol 1, p 31 by Joseph Fielding Smith states very clearly that Jesus resurrected Himself. Actually, it doesn’t, but it does say that He had the power to do it by Himself. What it does appear to state is that Jesus was commanded of his Father to resurrect Himself. This ability to raise Himself from the dead is the ultimate proof that Jesus was divine.
Christ Had Power over Death. This being true, what then did Paul mean by saying to Timothy, according to the King James Bible, that the Son of God “only hath immortality”? Simply this: That of all who have dwelt upon this earth, the Son of God stands out alone as the only one who possessed life in himself and power over death inherently. Christ was never subject unto death, even on the cross, but death was ever subject unto him. “As the Father hath life in himself,” the Savior said, “so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” Again, he said: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 5:26; John 10:17 – 18).
In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell (from the same talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson referenced below) the victory over death belongs to Christ.
“Christ’s victory over death ended the human predicament. Now there are only personal predicaments, and from these too we may be rescued by following the teachings of him who rescued us from general extinction.”
In the April, 2014 General Conference Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave a talk entitled, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is also pretty clear that Jesus had the power within himself to raise himself from the dead.
Christ’s Resurrection shows that His existence is independent and everlasting. “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” Jesus said:
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
“No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
The Savior is not dependent on food or water or oxygen or any other substance or power or person for life. Both as Jehovah and Messiah, He is the great I Am, the self-existing God. He simply is and ever will be.
… Consider for a moment the significance of the Resurrection in resolving once and for all the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth and the great philosophical contests and questions of life. If Jesus was in fact literally resurrected, it necessarily follows that He is a divine being. No mere mortal has the power in himself to come to life again after dying. Because He was resurrected, Jesus cannot have been only a carpenter, a teacher, a rabbi, or a prophet. Because He was resurrected, Jesus had to have been a God, even the Only Begotten Son of the Father.
The Importance of Unity of the Godhead
If you have spent any time in the scriptures you have probably read passages where Jesus speaks as though He is the Father. You have also read passages where the Holy Spirit has spoken as though He were either Christ or the Father. My point is the degree of unity in the Godhead. They speak and act for each other.
I have shown you verses that claim the Spirit raised Jesus, verses that say the Father raised Jesus, and verses that say Jesus raised Himself. As part of the Godhead, does it really matter who did it? I don’t think so. Most of the modern prophets rely on the reference that Jesus had the power over life and death within Himself.
Whether Jesus was raised by the Father, used the power of the Spirit to raise Himself, or had sufficient power to raise Himself without any assistance, it doesn’t change my view of the divinity of Jesus. He was dead, yet lives again. Because of Him all of us will live again. Life has meaning of an eternal nature because of His resurrection. I think that is all that truly matters.
What about you? What were you taught about the resurrection of Jesus? Can you allow that though we don’t have all the answers as to exactly how the resurrection took place that what really matters is that He lives? As you think about what the risen Lord means to you, does it really matter who had a hand in it? Jesus died, yet He lives again. This is the glorious message of the gospel. This is the good news of our salvation and redemption.
The Lord has never given us details about important spiritual events and processes. In this life we are required to walk by faith. How Jesus was resurrected is one of those details He hasn’t shared with us. But we live by faith that because of his resurrection we will live again as well. This means we will have the opportunity for eternal progress and growth, and eternal families. His atonement and resurrection were the most profound events in our existence.