It calls for an exceptional effort of mind on our part to appreciate how paradoxical was the attitude of those early Christians to the death of Christ. If ever death had appeared to be triumphant, it was when Jesus of Nazareth, disowned by His nation, abandoned by His disciples, executed by the might of imperial Rome, breathed His last on the cross. Why, some had actually recognized in His cry of pain and desolation the complaint that even God had forsaken Him. His faithful followers had confidently expected that He was the destined liberator of Israel; but He had died- not, like Judas of Galilee or Judas Maccabaeus, in the forefront of the struggle against the Gentile oppressors of Israel, but in evident weakness and disgrace- and their hopes died with Him. If ever a cause was lost, it was His; if ever the powers of evil were victorious, it was then. And yet- within a generation His followers were exultingly proclaiming the crucified Jesus to be the conqueror of death and asserting, like our author here, that by dying He had reduced the erstwhile lord of death to impotence. The keys of death and Hades were henceforth held firmly in Jesus' powerful hand, for He, in the language of His own parable, had invaded the strongman's fortress, disarmed him, bound him fast and robbed him of his spoil. This is the unanimous witness of the New Testament writers; this was the assurance which nerved martyrs to face death boldly in His name. This sudden change from disillusionment to triumph can only be explained by the account which the apostles gave- that their Master rose from the dead and imparted to them the power of His risen life.

 

from page 49, The Epistle to the Hebrews