Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

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Abstract: There is no more important message than that of the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s life-transforming and world-transforming. It is also the most joyous news imaginable. What Jesus did on our behalf leaves us forever in his debt and should put him at the center of our lives.

Easter Sunday,” President Russell M. Nelson declared at the commencement of his closing remarks for the April 2023 General Conference, “is the most important religious observance for followers of Jesus Christ. The main reason we celebrate Christmas is because of Easter.”1

And, truly, were it not for the events on and immediately preceding Easter—or what, with Claudia Bushman, I would personally prefer to call Resurrection Sunday2—we would have little if any reason to celebrate the birth of an obscure male Jewish peasant baby in first-century Palestine.

A traditional Easter greeting is popular throughout much of Eastern Christianity. It is often expressed in Greek, but often, too, in the local language. In Greek, it goes like this:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!
“Khristōs anestē!”3 “Christ is risen!”

[Page 46]To which the expected response is

Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
“Alēthōs anestē!”4 “Truly, he is risen!”

Every Easter morning, I receive emails containing this greeting from friends who know Greek.

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday commemorate the passion (suffering), the death, and the Resurrection of Jesus. They constitute what is sometimes called, in mainstream Christianity, the Holy Triduum (“three days”).

Whenever we partake of the sacrament, the events of these days should be central to our reflections. They should certainly be at the center of our thoughts on Easter Sunday.

“The fundamental principles of our religion,” Joseph Smith said, “are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”5

Christ’s act on our behalf leaves us forever in his debt and should put him at the center of our lives. And eventually, even for the rebellious, it will—every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord (Philippians 2:10–11). In scriptural language, he has redeemed us with his blood, which is to say that he has literally purchased us; he has bought our freedom from slavery to sin and the devil. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we belong to him. Speaking of the eventual impact of his impending crucifixion, the Savior prophesied:

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32)

So far as I am aware, though, Latter-day Saints are unique in understanding that the Atonement didn’t occur only on the cross on Good Friday. It began the night before, in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley. Appropriately, it undid what had occurred in another garden, “eastward in Eden” (Genesis 2:8; Moses 3:8; Abraham 5:8), long before. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). In some way that we cannot hope [Page 47]to fully understand in this life, Jesus suffered the pains of all men and women who have ever lived or ever will live—and he began to do so before the soldiers had even arrived to arrest him.

During that process, the gospel of Mark records, he “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mark 14:33). The Greek word that is translated as “amazed” also means “awestruck” or “astonished.” It’s one thing to read about something, to understand the theory behind something; it’s quite another to experience it for oneself. It seems that mortality was a learning experience for the Savior, too:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11–12)

Reading books about France can never quite replace being in France. It’s one thing to know the theory of pain; it’s quite another to be in pain. All the classwork in dental school won’t teach a dentist how it feels to suffer from a toothache. Even the divine Son of God, it seems, was shocked or “sore amazed” by the experience of the Atonement.

Accordingly, by the time Jesus went before Pontius Pilate and then on to Calvary, he was already well into the inconceivably horrific ordinance of the atonement—which went far beyond the brutal scourging and crucifixion that the Romans had already imposed upon thousands of convicted criminals and rebels. His experience was unique because he was unique.

Speaking to the Prophet Joseph Smith at Manchester, New York, during the summer of 1829, nearly a year before the Church was organized, the Lord said:

Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, [Page 48]that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15–19)

I think that we should take this seriously. Jesus knew the story of Abraham and Isaac. He knew that although Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son, the willingness was, ultimately, enough—“and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

Jesus, too, was willing. Might the willingness be enough? Was there an alternative? Could he forego the trials ahead? Surely he could ask!

Unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, though, there was no alternative. There was no ram in the thicket (Genesis 22:13).

For whatever little it may be worth, I share with you a personal speculation about Joseph Knight Sr. and Joseph Knight Jr. I was relatively old when I realized that I was a descendant of the Knights. (Until the time of my mission, my mother was a semi-active member of the Church, while my father was a non-practicing Lutheran.) But that realization got me to thinking about the Book of Mormon prophecy of a latter-day seer named Joseph, which would also be the name of his father (2 Nephi 3:15). We rightly see that as a prediction of Joseph Smith Sr. and Joseph Smith Jr.

Could Joseph Knight Sr. and Joseph Knight Jr. have been a back-up team? The Lord has his plans, and they will not be thwarted, but humans always have genuine agency. We can reject assignments; we can fail to fulfill our callings. The Knights lived in the same general area as the Smiths, and they were extremely early converts. In fact, they’ve sometimes been called the “second family of the Restoration.” They were also just a few years younger than the Smiths—which is how I would have done it, had I been in charge.

Now, you don’t have to believe this. I don’t necessarily believe it myself. It’s just a suspicion, or even merely an idea that I have found it fun to play around with. But my point is that there was no “back-up” for the Atonement; there was no alternative, no Plan B. There could not have been. There was no other sinless offering to be had, no second “Only Begotten Son.” Jesus had to fulfill his mission, or all was lost.

[Page 49]There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heav’n and let us in.6

This is all-important. It makes all the difference.

I’m now going to impose on you the first of two poems that mean a lot to me in this context. The first is by A. E. Housman, an important second-tier English poet, a very important classicist at Cambridge University, and an agnostic. I’m quite fond of him. I’ve even made the pilgrimage, with my wife, to visit his tomb at St. Laurence’s Church, Ludlow, in the United Kingdom.

Housman wanted to believe, I think, but he could not. In this poem, entitled “Easter Hymn,” he addresses his yearning directly to Jesus:

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.7

Try to imagine the sorrow and disappointment of the disciples, who had given up everything to follow a man that they believed to be the Messiah. Now, though, he was dead. He seemed to have been defeated.

As they hid out on the Saturday following Christ’s death, they felt defeat and deep sorrow at the death of a loved one. They feared arrest. They felt confusion, depression. They felt betrayed. Have you ever felt such emotions? They certainly did. And they were, no doubt, angry about the injustice and oppression of the Roman occupation and the corrupt priestly aristocracy that controlled their country. We’re often upset about the politics of our day; things were much worse then.

But then imagine the joy of Mary Magdalene—in a sense, the very [Page 50]first apostolic witness—taking the news of the Resurrection to the disciples who were gathered fearfully, sadly, and nervously together.

Incidentally, a word about women as the first witnesses: This is, to me, one powerful reason for trusting the New Testament accounts. In the world of first-century Judaism, the testimony of women was unacceptable in court. (Yes, I know this is plainly sexist.) They were considered unreliable witnesses, which leads me to believe that the New Testament writers would not have chosen women to be the first witnesses at the tomb if they had any other choice. If they were simply making up a fictional story, they would have chosen men as their first witnesses. They wrote it the way they did because that’s how it actually happened.

Moreover, there’s something important to note about the passage in which Mary Magdalene, after first failing to recognize Jesus, hears him pronounce her name and suddenly realizes who he is.

“Rabboni,” she cries out. “My master!”

“Touch me not,” he immediately responds, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:16–17).

But this King James translation seriously misrepresents what happened. The verb translated as “touch” means, more accurately, “to cling,” “to hold,” or even, as with Scotch tape, “to adhere.” And the tense means not to start doing something but to stop doing something that one is already doing.

I’m fond of an 1835 Russian painting by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, entitled Явление Христа Марии Магдалене после Воскресения (Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection). It shows Mary reaching out to the resurrected Jesus near the tomb, while he recoils from her. It’s completely wrong.

Mary didn’t expect to see him alive again. In the New Testament narrative, she’s overwhelmed with joyous emotion, and she throws herself at him. He’s trying, in a way, to peel her off. “Stop holding me,” he says, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father.”

It’s a very human scene. A very dramatic one.

Virtually all historians, of all religious opinions, agree that Jesus was crucified. The scriptural accounts say that he died just prior to Passover. One of his inner circle of twelve apostles betrayed him, nine fled at his arrest, and another, Peter, pretended not to know him. The last, John, seems to have watched events unfold from a safe distance (Luke 23:49; John 19:25–27). Thereafter, as prominent followers of a convicted and executed “criminal,” they went into hiding.

[Page 51]Only a few weeks later, though, the eleven surviving apostles were transformed. They even appointed a willing replacement for Judas.

What had happened?

According to Acts 1:2–9, the risen Jesus trained his apostles for forty days during a series of post-resurrection appearances and then ascended into heaven. Less than two weeks later, they began their first public preaching in connection with the feast of Pentecost, seven weeks after Passover and Easter Sunday (Acts 2).

The content of their first preaching is significant. Boldly speaking for the other apostles, Peter flatly identified the residents of Jerusalem as the killers of Jesus, testifying that God had raised Jesus from the dead and identifying himself and his colleagues as witnesses to these claims (Acts 2:22–24, 32). At this point, if Peter’s assertion were false, critics could easily have exhumed Jesus’s body and ended the nonsense. But, in fact, Luke tells us that mass conversions followed the apostles’ testimony (Acts 2:41, 47).

A few days later, Peter and John were in the courtyard of the temple, again openly accusing the people of Jerusalem of having murdered Jesus, testifying that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and identifying themselves as “witnesses” to these facts (Acts 3:13–15, 26).

The chief priests and Sadducees were understandably threatened by these public challenges, and, so, the two apostles were arrested and brought before Annas, Caiaphas, and other members of the city’s elite—the very men who, less than two months before, had engineered the execution of Jesus (Acts 4:1–7).

Without hesitation, Peter testified of “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).

Uncertain how to respond to this fearless defiance, the chief priests decided to “threaten” Peter and John, and to order them to speak no further about Jesus—to which the two apostles replied that they would not obey the order. Baffled as to what to do next, Annas and Caiaphas and the others simply threatened them again and let them go (Acts 4:17–21).

But the little Christian movement continued its public preaching to the extent that, exasperated and “filled with indignation,” the high priest and the Sadducees had the apostles again arrested and, this time, jailed. However, they were miraculously delivered from prison and immediately proceeded to the temple to preach still more (Acts 5:17–25).

So, they were arrested yet again and hauled once more before the [Page 52]high priest and his council, where they were reminded that they had been ordered not to teach about Jesus (Acts 5:26–28).

And, yet again, the apostles were defiant and unintimidated. “We ought to obey God rather than men,” explained Peter. You killed Jesus, he said, but God raised him from the dead “and we are his witnesses of these things” (Acts 5:29–32).

At this point, according to Acts, the council considered killing them. But a prominent rabbi named Gamaliel stood up and strongly advised against that. So, the council had them beaten, yet again, and ordered them, yet again, to be quiet about Jesus (Acts 5:33–40).

And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. (Acts 5:41–42)

Some will argue that this account is fiction, inspiring but wholly mythical. But its author, the evangelist Luke, seems to have been a well–educated and careful historian who based his narrative upon eyewitness interviews (Luke 1:1–4). And the New Testament doesn’t shrink from casting early church leaders in a negative light when appropriate; it feels no apparent need to glorify them by falsifying history. Furthermore, given the remarkable and well-documented growth of earliest Christianity, something very like what Luke reports must necessarily have happened.

What transformed the fearful, cowering apostles of Passover weekend into the fearless preachers of Christ’s Resurrection less than two months later?

There is a very obvious answer, and everything hinges on it. As Joseph Smith said, every other claim of the Gospel is a footnote to this story. If it isn’t true, our meetings, our programs, our temples, and, ultimately, our lives are empty and without meaning.

I now impose upon you my second poem, this one by John Updike, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose novels I would never quote in a Church meeting but who was, somewhat surprisingly, a believing Christian. First, though, you need to understand the rather unfamiliar concluding word of the poem. It is remonstrance, which means “a forceful reproach” or “a rebuke.” It comes from the verb to remonstrate (“to reproach someone,” “to rebuke someone”). I give you “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” by John Updike:

[Page 53]Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.8

[Page 54]At the beginning of his epistle to the Romans, though, the apostle Paul explains that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The Resurrection is the divine seal of approval on Jesus’s teachings. It is the certification that his gift of Atonement on our behalf was accepted by the Father. God would surely not have raised a liar or a false teacher from the dead.

That’s part of what his Resurrection means, but only part.

According to an early Buddhist story, a despairing mother whose little boy had died came to the Buddha, begging him to restore her son to life. The Buddha told her to go about the town collecting mustard seeds. But she was to do so only from houses in which nobody had ever died.

Hopeful, she set about her task. But she found only disappointment because each house had seen a death. Finally, she returned to the Buddha without a single mustard seed. Now she understood that death was universal and inescapable. And, though still sorrowful, she had come to accept it.9

The simple, unavoidable fact is that we all will die. And all those whom we love, and every thing that we love—even seas, mountains, and valleys—will also die. All earthly relationships end in death, if not before.

But the joyous news of Christianity goes far beyond mere stoic acceptance of death, or Buddhist resignation and non-attachment.

Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week and the day before Easter, follows Good Friday. It commemorates the day that Jesus’s broken body lay dead in the tomb. It represents an interim period, a time of waiting and uncertainty.

Modern believers in the Restoration, however, understand that, even while his body lay dead and motionless, Jesus’s immortal spirit was preaching to the spirits in prison, inaugurating the great work of the redemption of the dead that is carried on now in our temples (1 Peter 3:18–20, 4:6; and, most of all, Doctrine and Covenants 138). We may not always see God visibly at work from our vantage point in this fallen world, encircled by the veil, but he is always working for our salvation.

On that ancient Saturday, though, the apostles were hiding, their [Page 55]hopes dashed, not knowing what to do, perhaps anticipating their own arrest and execution.

Many of us are living our own Saturday, holy or unholy. Evil and injustice and betrayal frequently seem to have the upper hand in the world around us, and indeed in our own lives. We’re fearful and uncertain. Often, we’ve been defeated, and perhaps we feel that any significant victory is beyond our reach. We’re worn out. We’ve heard promises of wonderful things to come, but we’re unsure of them. Commonly, our days seem very dark. We wonder if our belief has been in vain.

But the testimony of the Gospels, of the first apostles, of the early Christians, of Christian believers throughout the centuries, of the Book of Mormon, and of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his apostolic successors is that, early on Sunday morning, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Jesus had risen.

And, for all of us, Easter will come. Our Saturday of uncertainty and defeat does not and will not continue forever. As the great late-medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich—who lived through the Black Plague—so simply but memorably expressed the Christian hope, in words that she said had been given to her by God, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”10

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell—
All is well! All is well!11

Our “afflictions,” as the Book of Mormon puts it, should be “swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31:38). Our lives should be reconfigured and transformed by the news of Easter.

We should strive not to be like the anxious, fearful disciples of Holy Saturday, hiding from the world. We should be Christians who, knowing about Easter Sunday, confidently take the message of the Atonement and the Resurrection to our families, our friends, and the [Page 56]world. There is no more important message. It is life-transforming and world-transforming.

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! – Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!
Christ is risen! Truly, he is risen!

1. Russell M. Nelson, “The Answer Is Always Jesus Christ,” Liahona, May 2023, 127, Emphasis in original.
2. Claudia Bushman, “Resurrection Month,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 44 (2021): 137–44,
3. In modern Greek, both the letter i and the letter ē are pronounced like the doubled e in meet and seek. The ō is pronounced like the oa in oak.
4. See the note on pronunciation immediately above. The th resembles that in thought rather than that in though or, for that matter, in that.
5. Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 121.
6. “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” Hymns, no. 194.
7. A. E. Housman, “I: Easter Hymn,” All Poetry (website),
8. John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” Genius (website),
9. For the story and teaching aids for the story, see Naomi Appleton, “Kisagotami and the Mustard Seed,” in Story and Religion: Resources, The University of Edinburgh School of Divinity (website),
10. Julian of Norwich, The Revelations of Divine Love (1373; repr., London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Truber & Co., 1902), 68. This appears, by the way, to have been the first book written by a woman in the English language.
11. “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, no. 30.

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About Daniel C. Peterson

Daniel C. Peterson (PhD, University of California at Los Angeles) is a professor emeritus of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University, where he founded the University’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He has published and spoken extensively on both Islamic and Latter-day Saint subjects. Formerly chairman of the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and an officer, editor, and author for its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, his professional work as an Arabist focuses on the Qur’an and on Islamic philosophical theology. He is the author, among other things, of a biography entitled Muhammad: Prophet of God (Eerdmans, 2007).

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