The truth of the resurrection of Jesus
How true was the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
In any discussion on the gospel the central truth of the resurrection of Jesus must be presented. It is because Jesus lives that we may live. The Christian faith stands or falls on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If he did not rise then we believers are most to be pitied. So it is essential for us to be able to defend this central plank of our faith, namely, that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead. The following outlines some of the evidence available to us.
The eye-witnesses who saw the tomb empty
i] The disciples of Jesus
Mark 16:1,5,6 - Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome
Luke 24:10 - Joanna, other women
Luke 24:18,24 - Cleopas, other disciples
John 20:6-8 - Peter, other disciples (John)
These did not expect a resurrection; they were not looking for one. The women were going to anoint a dead body quickly before it decomposed too much. The apostles and other disciples were so filled with grief they did not expect a resurrection, or believe those who witnessed to it.
ii] Matthew 28:11 - Soldiers. These men had nothing to gain and everything to lose, in failing to prevent the removal of the body and by declaring the tomb was empty. Yet they did so. Later, the Jews bribed them to say the disciples had stolen the body while they slept. Yet note the following:
If they slept, how could they say who stole the body?
To sleep on duty was a serious charge, so no wonder the chief priests promised to fix it with Pilate if he heard the rumour.
The fact of the empty tomb cannot be denied.
Objections to the evidence of the eye-witnesses
Did they go to the wrong tomb? This cannot be sustained.
i] A number of people who went there on Sunday knew the situation of the tomb, apart from Joseph who owned it. Matthew 27:61 - Mary Magdalene, Mary - Luke 23:55 - Women.
ii] Joseph would soon hear that the body was missing and would go to his tomb to investigate.
iii] The disciples would soon have found the other tomb if it existed.
iv] The Jewish leaders would have checked the soldiers' story and investigated the tomb for themselves. If Jesus' body was in another tomb, they would have soon produced it to silence the disciples' claim of the resurrection.
v] The grave clothes were left in this tomb.
"It is impossible to hold that the right tomb was completely forgotten by all, friend and foe alike ... (New Bible Dictionary).
Did Jesus' friends take the body?
i] A guard was sent by the Jews to prevent this very thing happening. They feared his disciples might steal Jesus' body, Matt.27:64-66.
ii] The disciples at first assumed Jesus' body had been stolen by others, John 20:2.
iii] The disciples were too grief-stricken to do so; they were dispirited, beaten men, hiding away for fear of the Jews. They were in no state to then perpetrate a fraud, Mark 16:10. They didn't expect a resurrection, so why claim one, Mark 16:11 (they didn't believe it).
iv] This was the lie put into the mouths of the soldiers by the priests. The fact they had to be bribed to say so, shows how false it was, Matt.28:12,13.
v] It would have been impossible to hide the body in the city - a thorough search would have been made immediately.
vi] The disciples would not have been able to sustain such persecution later, for something they knew to be a lie. Some were imprisoned; James executed etc. "Men do not suffer such penalties for upholding what they know to be a lie."
Did enemies remove the body?
i] Not the Jews - they wanted him dead and buried. They wanted a guard to prevent his body being removed. To have done so, would have been to start the very rumours of a resurrection that the evidence shows they were so anxious to prevent. They failed to produce the body to quieten the disciples later when they began preaching Christ had risen. If they had it, they would have been sure to do so ....
ii] Not the Romans - they had no reason to do so, and had no desire to incite a rebellion. They had given in to the Jews and crucified Jesus to prevent further trouble; afterwards they would do nothing to stir up trouble. Pilate allowed a guard to prevent anyone taking the body.
The empty graves cloths
It is significant that these were left in the tomb.
i] If the body had been stolen, why unwrap the grave clothes and leave them behind. The body would be decomposing at this stage and hard to handle.
ii] If the grave clothes had been unwrapped, the powdered spices would have been spread everywhere and the tomb in a mess, but they were lying in one place. The absence of any comment about disorder indicates they were still as they had been when the body was in them.
iii] Peter and John saw the grave clothes, and were convinced Jesus' body had not been stolen. If they had been unwrapped and in a heap etc. they could only conclude thieves had done this, and would certainly have instigated a search, (note how quickly they had run to the tomb). To the contrary, they went home believing Jesus had risen ... John 20:3-10. They had seen something amazing...
The appearance of Christ
There are ten appearances of Christ in the gospels, and a great variety of witnesses to the event - sometimes one or two saw the Lord, sometimes a large number, ie. the eleven or 500 at once - men as well as women.
John 20:16 - Mary Magdalene
Matthew 28:9 - Mary, Salome, Joanna
Luke 24:3 - Peter
Luke 24:15,35 - Two disciples walking to Emmaus
John 20:19,20 - Apostles and disciples in the upper room
John 20:26,29 - Apostles and especially Thomas in the upper room.
John 21 - Seven apostles while fishing on the lake of Galilee.
1 Cor.15 - 500 Christians at once (when Paul wrote this, most were still living - his readers could easily check up on his claims).
1 Cor.15:7 - James (Jesus' half-brother).
Acts 1:6-11 - Apostles at the ascension of Jesus.
Acts 1:3 - To the Apostles, many other times during the forty days between the resurrection and the ascension.
When anyone saw Jesus and told others, they were not believed -
Mark 16:11 - Disciples disbelieved Mary
Luke 24:11 - They disbelieved the other women
John 20:25 - Thomas didn't believe the disciples
It wasn't till the disciples personally saw Christ that they believed. Even then he had to convince them he was not a spirit, but was the same Lord raised bodily from the grave. eg. He invited them to touch Him. He ate food, Luke 24:39-43.
The testimony of those who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial, cannot be denied. It is recorded very clearly in the New Testament.
Alternate theories to explain away the resurrection appearances
A) The swoon theory
Jesus didn't really die on the cross but fainted. Then in the coolness of the tomb He revived. The theory is not satisfactory due to the following:
i] Pilate would not have released Jesus' body for burial if he still lived. He questioned the centurion who certified Jesus was dead... These professional executioners made no mistake regarding such a statement. They made it their job to see that those executed really died, Mark 15:45.
ii] A spear had been plunged into Jesus' side to certify death, John 19:34.
iii] Particular point is made in the record that Jesus had died quickly, John 19:33, Mark 15:44.
iv] His so-called swoon raises too many unanswered questions:
How did He get out of the tomb? A practical impossibility from the inside, especially for one in such an exhausted condition.
What then happened to Him?
Why do we hear no more of Him?
When did he die?
B) The hallucination theory
The disciples were victims of hallucinations, ie. they thought they saw Jesus .... This theory is not satisfactory for the following reasons:
i] Hallucinations come to those who are in some sense looking for them, and there is no evidence of this among the disciples. Rather they are filled with grief and regard Jesus as gone forever.
ii] Once started, hallucinations tend to continue, these stopped abruptly.
iii] Hallucinations are individual affairs, whereas in this case as many as 500 people saw him at once.
C) The vision theory
God gave the disciples visions of Christ to assure them that although Jesus was physically dead, he still lived in spirit. This theory is not satisfactory for the following reasons:
i] Real visions admit the supernatural and don't reject the possibility of the resurrection.
ii] A moral problem - the disciples were led to believe that Jesus had actually, in his body, risen from the dead. God would be guilty of deceiving the disciples. An unthinkable conclusion.
iii] This view ignores the empty tomb.
The complete change in the disciples
At the crucifixion they were beaten and dispirited men. Shortly after the crucifixion the disciples of Jesus were ready to go to prison and even to die for the sake of their Lord. So why the change? Clearly they were convinced Jesus had risen from the dead ...
i] People do not run such risks unless they are very sure of themselves.
ii] The core of the resurrection became the apostles' preaching - Acts 2:24, Acts 3:15, Acts 4:10.
It is rightly stated that the existence of the Christian church is the greatest evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Here were these beaten people suddenly enthused with the notion that Jesus was alive. Out of their faith, the church grew to encompass the whole known world in a single century. They willingly faced death in the belief that Jesus was alive. They were changed people, and their change gave birth to the church. Note: The driving force of Paul's ministry was - "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection."
The integrity of Jesus requires a bodily resurrection
Jesus said a number of times, He would die and rise again on the third day (Luke 24:6,7). If He didn't rise from the dead, he was a deceiver, one who led others astray. His whole teaching and ministry falls apart. If Jesus was wrong on this point, he cannot be believed on any point. However the character of Jesus' teaching and life is not that of a deceiver, but one who in love and humility showed a genuine compassion for others, and lived and taught with divine authority.
People will often claim Jesus to be a good man worthy of our consideration, but will deny his resurrection. Yet if his bones lie in the dust of Palestine then the last thing we can say of him was that he was a good man. We may call him a lunatic, someone who thought he would rise from the dead after his death, but who was totally deluded. We may call him a liar, a fraud, someone who knowingly deceived people. He claimed he would rise from the dead knowing that there was no hope of such an event.
If we wish to affirm the dignity and integrity of Jesus then we are bound to accept his resurrection. If he did rise then we have in this man the source of divine living power, a power we would be fools not to take to ourselves.
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