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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 6: "The Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ"

For the bulk of mankind, death is a necessary event that is meant to strengthen and test our faith in the Almighty. Death is rarely a sweet and peaceful experience for all involved. There is usually someone who is party to a death that suffers at least the anguish of loss over the loved one, even if the person dying is at peace with the process.

Because we are nearing the Easter celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, this lesson focuses mainly on that event. Let’s look at where death comes from, its purpose, and how it fits into the plan of salvation as designed by our Father in Heaven. But most importantly, let’s look at our Savior’s role in our relationship with death.

Death in the Plan of Salvation

One of the main purposes of coming to earth was to gain a mortal body. Note that I said a mortal body, not a physical body. We need a mortal body so that our time of probation on earth is temporary and brief. If we were to all be given eternal bodies the first go around, consider how much spiritual damage we could do to ourselves in a body that never dies. Many of us would be like the descendants of Adam before the flood, but much worse because there wouldn’t be a way to take us out of earth life and end our ability to sin.

Yes, our purpose is to gain a body, but we are also taught that we are only here for a short time. In this short period of time between birth and death we are tried and proven to see if we will continue to be obedient to our Father in Heaven even when we have the desires of the flesh to deal with. So death is necessary. Death is the expiration date on our passport to earth.

We just had one small problem, and that is that none of us could retrieve ourselves from death once it occurred. Once separated from our bodies and back in our spirit state, we were stuck there. We required someone with abilities beyond our own to save us from eternity as a spirit.

As part of our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness, He would send us a Savior who could break the bands of death that would hold all of us, giving us not just our bodies back again, but who could give us back bodies which would never again die. Christ’s atoning sacrifice included a resurrection which opened the door for all of us to also be resurrected.

What is Resurrection?

Just as birth is the blending of a spirit body with a physical body, death is the dissolution or breaking of that bond, separating us from our body so we are just a spirit once again. This actually serves some very important purposes.

For those who have messed up their opportunity to prove faithful to our Father in Heaven, death ends the period we have to do further damage to ourselves. For those who have been faithful to the commandments of our Father, death is a release from the trials we all have to face in mortality. It welcomes us into a time of relief and lets us prepare to receive the vastly improved version of body the resurrection promises us. While we wait for our turn to be resurrected, we continue to serve and work for the salvation of those who went through life without the gospel of Christ.

President Hunter describes the difference between a mortal body and the resurrected body this way:

"There is a separation of the spirit and the body at the time of death. The resurrection will again unite the spirit with the body, and the body becomes a spiritual body, one of flesh and bones but quickened by the spirit instead of blood. Thus, our bodies after the resurrection, quickened by the spirit, shall become immortal and never die. This is the meaning of the statements of Paul that “there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” and “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” [see 1 Corinthians 15:44, 50]. The natural body is flesh and blood, but quickened by the spirit instead of blood, it can and will enter the kingdom."

Blood, it appears is the culprit for our mortality. In mortality it is the blood that keeps us alive, but only for a short period of time. Once our spirit and body are reunited in the resurrection, we will be quickened or kept alive by the spirit, and not blood. Since the spirit is eternal in nature, we will never die. The mortal body is not capable of eternal glory because it is only a temporary vessel. But a physical body quickened by the spirit can be eternally glorified because it can’t die.

The Importance of the Atonement

The plan of salvation proffered by our Father required that most of us die and spent time apart from our bodies after this life. His plan also promised an upgrade to our physical bodies to those who were faithful enough to come to earth because they were obedient in our first estate as spirits. Unfortunately, the offer came at a steep price for the one who had to pay it.

As the Chosen One, Jesus had to suffer as no human could possibly imagine. This suffering of an innocent for those who were not innocent satisfied the demands of the laws of God, allowing Jesus to set the conditions for our salvation. Because of our disobedience in mortality we are all lost to our Father in Heaven. Only by obeying the commandments given us through Christ can we qualify to return home to our Father.

Christ’s grace, his enabling power, makes it possible for us to change and improve, to become better today than we were yesterday. It is his grace that makes it possible for us to become like Him.

Christ was the first to be resurrected. Because of his personal abilities, and in obedience to God, Christ resurrected himself, becoming the first to be quickened by the spirit and to receive a glorified body. With his resurrection the way has been opened for all of us to also receive a resurrection. Christ’s suffering and resurrection for us is a gift from God and Christ. It demonstrates their great love for all of us. President Hunter expressed it this way in the lesson:

"I bear you my testimony, my brethren and sisters, that our Heavenly Father sent his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to fulfill the conditions upon which the plan of salvation would be operated. The Atonement represents his great love for us."

Note that the whole plan of salvation for God’s family revolves around this sacrifice Jesus was willing to make on our behalf. There is no more central event in the whole creation and peopling of the world than the atonement and resurrection of Christ.

"The Atonement of Jesus Christ was a foreordained assignment by our Heavenly Father to redeem his children after their fallen state."

Christ was sent to earth with one purpose, and that was to save us all from our fallen state and open the door for our return home. He accepted the assignment from God to suffer and die for us. His love for his Father and his love for us strengthened him for the sacrifice that had to be made in order to offer salvation to all of God’s family.

Final Thoughts

At this time of Easter when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection it is important that we do our best to try to comprehend what our existence would be like without his atonement and resurrection. As 2 Nephi 9:9 - 10 says, without Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf we would all have been left at the mercy of Satan forever.

9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; ...

How many of us go from day to day with hardly a thought of the precarious condition of our soul? Without Christ we would be lost to our heavenly home forever. There is no way back, except through Christ and his atoning sacrifice, and the resurrection he has provided for us. Our hearts should be in a constant state of overflowing gratitude toward the Savior of our souls. For the bulk of mankind, death is a necessary event that is meant to strengthen and test our faith in the Almighty. Death is rarely a sweet and peaceful experience for all involved. There is usually someone who is party to a death that suffers at least the anguish of loss over the loved one, even if the person dying is at peace with the process.

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