Jesus Christ spent His last few days teaching in Jerusalem by day and spending His nights with friends in Bethany. Most scholars say that He ate His Passover meal on Thursday evening, but some say that it was Wednesday. Whichever night it was, He introduced the sacrament to His Apostles, sang and hymn with them, and took them with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane. He took Peter, James, and John and went a little further. He bade them wait for Him while He went to prayer. After praying several times, He woke His exhausted friends and went to meet His betrayer.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin. After being abused by them all night, He was taken before Pontius Pilate in the early morning hours. Pilate tried to free Him but eventually sentenced Him to death while at the same time releasing a condemned murderer. Jesus was scourged or beaten with a whip made of leather and weighted with sharp pieces of lead and bone. After beating the Savior, the Roman soldiers mocked Him by putting a purple robe on Him and a crown of plaited thorns.
The Savior had been up more than 24 hours by this time. He spent His day teaching in the temple and His evening with His Apostles. Then He went into Gethsemane where He continued His atoning sacrifice. He spent the night before the Sanhedrin and was taken before Pilate in the morning hours. After all this terrible treatment, He was expected to carry His own cross to Golgotha. His physical strength apparently failed Him because the soldiers compelled another man to carry the cross.
Jesus was nailed to the cross about 9:00 in the morning. About noon a darkness covered the land, and the Savior died about 3:00 p.m. His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb where it lay until early Sunday morning. Peter tells us that Jesus Christ visited the spirit world while His body was lying in the tomb.
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water (1 Peter 3:18-20).
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit (1 Peter 4:6).
In 1918 President Joseph F. Smith was in his home in Salt Lake City, Utah. He read and pondered the above quoted words of Peter. While he was pondering Peter’s words, a vision opened to him, and he saw “an innumerable company” of “the hosts of the dead, both small and great” gathered in one place. The spirits “were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.” They were waiting to welcome “the Son of God into the spirit world.” He watched as “the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful.” He preached His gospel to the faithful and taught them “the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.” He did not visit as wicked, ungodly, unrepentant, or rebellious spirits. (See Doctrine and Covenants 138:11-21.)
President Smith marveled about what he was seeing, and he continued to ponder Peter’s words where he said that Jesus “preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering God waited in the days of Noah” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:28). He wondered how the Savior could teach all the spirits in the spirit world during the short period of time that His body was in the tomb. Then the vision continued.
And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead (Doctrine and Covenants 138:29-30).
We know from President Smith’s vision that the Savior was busy with His work of saving the souls of mankind even though His body was lying in the tomb awaiting resurrection. Early Sunday morning followers of Jesus Christ discovered that His body was missing from the tomb. Soon afterwards the resurrected Savior appeared to them. They were allowed to touch the nail holes in His hands and feet and to thrust their hands into His side.
To the Jews, the Sabbath Day is Saturday. The Christians changed their Sabbath Day to Sunday because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event to take place on earth. His Resurrection is celebrated every year in the spring on a day called Easter. Without the events of Easter, there would be no Christmas. If Jesus Christ had not risen from the dead, He would have been just another of the billions of mortals on earth. However, He did rise from the dead and made it possible for all mankind to be resurrected and become immortal. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) taught the following about the importance of the Resurrection of the Savior.
“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” [Matthew 28:6].
These are the most reassuring words in all of human history. Death – universal and final – had now been conquered….
Never had this occurred before. There had been only death without hope. Now there was life eternal. Only a God could have done this. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the great crowning event of His life and mission. It was the capstone of the Atonement. The sacrifice of His life for all mankind was not complete without His coming forth from the grave, with the certainty of the Resurrection for all who have walked the earth.
Of all the victories in the chronicles of humanity, none is so great, none so universal in its effect, none so everlasting in its consequences as the victory of the crucified Lord, who came forth from the tomb that first Easter morning.
Those who were witnesses of that event, all who saw and heard and spoke with the Risen Lord, testified of the reality of this greatest of all miracles. His followers through the centuries lived and died in proclamation of the truth of this supernal act.
To all of these we add our testimony that He who died on Calvary’s cross arose again in wondrous splendor as the Son of God, the Master of life and death (“Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 15).
A beautiful program presented by the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square can be found at this site. It is titled “He Is Risen: A Sacred Easter Presentation.”