Jesus Christ has died. Jesus Christ has risen! Jesus Christ will come again! If Good Friday raised the question, Resurrection Sunday raised the Man, and the risen Man is the answer to all the raised questions!
Indeed the Resurrection is at the very core of our Christian faith. Insofar as the Resurrection can be validated and set forth, Christianity stands or falls. As believers of Jesus Christ, we are the resurrection people; we believe in the resurrection from the dead. Out of all the global religions, there is only one with a Founder who claimed that He would rise from the dead – and He did!
The Importance of the Resurrection
The birth of the Church is dependent upon Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Without the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus to His disciples, no disciple would have left his fishing boat a second time and no one would ever have gathered in the upper room. What took place early on the third day after the Crucifixion began a historic shift in world history. Lewis Peter rightly said,
“Without the Resurrection, Christianity would have been still-born, for a living faith cannot survive a dead Savior.”
Jesus stated His own claims about the Resurrection. He foretold His own death and stated that the evidence of His identity would be based upon His rising from the dead. Imagine the audacity of a Man who was saying that the validity of His identity as the Messiah is based on his power over death (John 2:18 – 21)! No other religious founder has based the audacity of his claims as well as his ethics upon an empty tomb and upon post-death appearances in a physical body.
Wilbur M. Smith said,
“It was this same Jesus, the Christ who among many other remarkable things, said and repeated something which, proceeding from any other being would have been condemned him at once as either a bloated egoist or a dangerously unbalanced person. That Jesus said He was going up to Jerusalem to die is not as remarkable, though all the details He gave about that death, weeks and months before He died, are together a prophetic phenomenon. But when He said that He Himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say, if He expected longer the devotion of any disciples – unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any other religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that!”
A Historical Event and a Real Event
Christianity claims that the Resurrection was not a mere spiritual resurrection in the hearts of disciples for some philosophical or theological construct. It claims that Jesus, in real time and space, rose from the dead with a physical body and appeared in the flesh to real people. The Gospel writers testified that the tomb was empty and that Jesus appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days. In those encounters, the disciples and the women held on to His feet and touched His hands and side. Jesus also ate with the disciples.
“Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst if them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’” (Luke 24:36 – 39)
The Proofs of the Resurrection of Christ
There are five proofs to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1. The empty tomb stands as a proof of the Resurrection.
All it would have taken to dispel the “myth” and to squash the beginning of this upstart religion would have been to produce Jesus’ body from the tomb. One body from Joseph’s tomb and the testimony would have been over. It is important to note that even the enemies of the Gospel admitted to the empty tomb and did not try to dissuade people from believing in an empty tomb. Rather they spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body and paid off the guard to say the same. Tom Anderson (the former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association) said,
“Let’s assume that the written accounts of His appearances to hundreds of people are false. I want to pose a question. With an event so well publicized, don’t you think it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection! As we will see, His opponents don’t even argue the fact that the tomb was empty. They concede it!”
2. The multitude of Jesus’ appearances stand as proof of the Resurrection.
The Resurrection of Jesus took place early on the third day. Over the next forty days, Jesus would make numerous appearances in His resurrected body. Some examples of Jesus’ appearance:
i. The women received the angelic report and told the disciples. Mary Magdalene continued to believe that someone has stolen Jesus’ body. (John 20)
ii. The race to the tomb – Peter and John raced to the tomb to verify the women’s report. John arrived at the tomb before Peter, yet stopped at the entrance as Peter rushed in and found the linen neatly folded. (John 20)
iii. Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As Jesus led them through the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, the disciples moved into a supernatural understanding of Scripture. Their eyes were able to see both the suffering and glory of the Messiah. (Luke 24)
iv. The appearance specifically before Thomas in John 20:27 – 29.
v. The appearance to the disciples by the sea of Tiberias in John 21.
vi. The appearance to the five hundred, to James and to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 – 8.
3. The changed lives of the apostles stand as proof of the Resurrection.
The Gospels are clear that the disciples were in a state of disillusionment when the Resurrection occurred. The Gospels testify that the disciples had not understood the prophecies of Jesus about His death and resurrection. Confused and broken, they were returning home after His death. The road to Emmaus alluded to their shattered faith. Even after the empty tomb, some did not believe until they had seen the risen Lord! It is clear that Thomas did not believe. Before the Resurrection, James, John, Peter and Andrew had returned to fishing.
Their almost immediate surge in courage is a proof of the Resurrection. The apostles moved from denial, disillusionment and being dispersed to gathering together to boldly proclaim Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For instance, Peter had been moved to denial out of fear from a young girl’s question but shortly after, Peter was boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ in the face of death.
The self-sacrifice of the apostles is also a proof of the Resurrection. They had moved from arguing over who was the greatest to self-surrender and sacrifice for the witness of Christ. After the Resurrection, a moral shift took place among the twelve. By Acts 15, the reader of the book of Acts isn’t sure who was in charge – was it Peter or was it James? Humility permeated the scene. This is a weighty argument for the Resurrection. How could men who preached and lived lives of the highest moral standards have based their moral construct on a faked Resurrection? Keeping up with such an outlandish and intentional lie could not have caused them to live lives of moral integrity.
The martyrdom of the apostles is another proof of the resurrection. Even the scholars who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus admit that something powerful had to have happened for the disciples to be willing to die – powerful enough for them to be willing to die the most gruesome and torturous deaths imaginable.
4. The apostles’ preaching in Jerusalem stands as proof of the Resurrection.
The disciples immediately preached the message of the Resurrection in the very town where all the events described had happened in plain sight of everyone. Not enough time had transpired for legends or myths to be circulated and believed, for the events being proclaimed had happened just weeks before. Creating legends and myths about Jesus in the same town where He had been killed a few weeks earlier would have been impossible.
John Warwick Montgomery said,
“Note that when the disciples of Jesus proclaimed the resurrection, they did so as eyewitnesses and they did so while people were still alive who had contact with the events they spoke of. In 56 A.D. Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
5. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle stands as proof of the Resurrection.
In order to dispute the claims of Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus, one must explain the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus. How do you explain a man who gave his life to killing Christians, but, in one moment, turned around and joined the very ones he was killing, even giving his own life for them? What happened on the road to Damascus? Your arguments against Christianity can be foolproof and your position can be strong. Yet, there is no defence against a risen Lord who shows up the way He showed up to Saul of Tarsus on that day. Paul gave the reason for his startling shift in belief and behaviour before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 22). He declared that he had met the risen Lord.
Five Historical Explanations against the Resurrection and the Arguments for the Resurrection
1. The wrong tomb theory
This position holds that because it was dark, the women went to the wrong tomb. Having found the wrong tomb empty, they rushed back with joy to tell the disciples, and thus what had been a rumour was presented as truth.
Argument against the wrong tomb theory:
a. Everyone knew where the tomb was. Peter and John verified the women’s account later and found the grave clothes folded in the empty tomb.
b. Jesus’ enemies knew where the empty tomb was and could have easily produced the body to silence the nascent movement.
2. The stolen body theory
This theory states that either the Roman or Jewish authorities stole the body.
Argument against the stolen body theory:
a. In light of the trouble that the apostles’ preaching about the Resurrection caused for both the Jewish and Roman authorities, this view is unthinkable. One cannot imagine the authorities would have hidden the very object that would have dispelled all rumours of the Resurrection.
b. The production of Jesus’ dead body would have ended all contention.
3. The swoon theory
This theory holds that Jesus did not actually die on the cross. While appearing to die, He actually swooned. Supposedly, His injuries left Him in shock but still alive, and the coolness of the tomb revived Him in such a way that He was able to come forth from the grave on the third day.
Argument against the swoon theory:
a. It is clear that Jesus was dead. No one could have survived those injuries, especially without aid or assistance. Also, the blood and water that flowed from His side clearly indicated that Jesus was dead.
b. The soldiers were experts at crucifixion. They made sure and testified that Jesus was dead. They did not break His legs due to their certainty of His death, but proceeded to stick a spear in His side to ensure their findings were correct.
c. Jesus was covered with burial clothes and eighty pounds of spices after the crucifixion. How could Jesus have lived for three days without food or water while being completely wrapped from head to toe in linen and covered by eighty pounds of spices?
d. How could Jesus have revived, unwrapped himself, rolled away a great stone that took many men to put in place, fought off a Roman guard, and then walked several miles on the road to Emmaus while dialoguing with two disciples?
e. How could Jesus have disappeared for the next forty or more years without a trace while the disciples died for a propagated lie? Moreover, why would He have done such a thing?
4. The hallucination theory
This theory holds that the Resurrection took place in the minds of the disciples. Dr. William McNeil articulates this position and he said,
“The Roman authorities in Jerusalem arrested and crucified Jesus… But soon afterwards the dispirited Apostles gathered in an upstairs room and suddenly felt again the heart-warming presence of their master. This seemed absolutely convincing evidence that Jesus’ death on the cross had not been the end but the beginning… The Apostles bubbled over with excitement and tried to explain to all who would listen all that had happened.”
Argument against the hallucination theory:
a. Hallucinations of this kind can only happen if certain conditions are met.
b. Also, hallucinations are perceived by only individuals, not groups, and are very subjective. Entire groups of people saw the risen Jesus, and they all saw the same thing.
c. The disciples did not claim to have seen a vision. They testified to touching Him and eating with Him.
d. Also, hallucinations are very restricted as to when, where, and how often they occur. The resurrection appearances happened in several different environments and at different times.
e. Hallucinations occur when a person is hopeful and expecting something to happen. The disciples were not in a hopeful or expecting state. Rather, they were disillusioned and in despair. Jesus showed up unannounced and suddenly.
5. The theft theory
This theory is the most popular and was the one the Jews circulated in an attempt to discredit and quash the Apostles’ ministry in Jerusalem.
Now while they were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:11 – 15)
Argument against the theft theory:
a. If the Romans were sleeping, how did they know it was the disciples who stole the body?
b. The possibility of a Roman guard sleeping was highly unlikely. Falling asleep on a night watch was punishable by death for a Roman soldier.
c. It is highly unlikely that the disciples would have gathered in one place to strategize such a plot. Their lives were in danger, and they were in hiding.
d. Even if they had gathered and formulated such a plan, the tomb was also secured with a Roman seal, and the punishment for the breaking of the seal was death. It is unimaginable that the disciples would risk their lives for their dead master when they had not been willing to risk their lives for their master when He was alive.
e. If the disciples had overcome their cowardice, broken the Roman seal, rolled the large great stone uphill without waking the soldiers, and stolen the body, why would they have taken the time to unwrap Jesus and leave His grave clothes nicely folded in the tomb?
Six Significances of the Resurrection
1. The Resurrection confirmed the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Divine Son of God. Jesus is the Lord, the resurrected Christ, and we are the people who testify to the Resurrection. He is going to judge the human race based on what we believe concerning the Resurrection.
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:32 – 36)
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him. (Acts 5:30 – 32)
Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come – that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22 – 23)
2. The Resurrection vindicates the righteousness of Christ and the righteousness of God. God was vindicated as the righteous judge of sin, and Jesus was vindicated as the sinless acceptable sacrifice. In God’s economy, sin had to be judged. At the same time, He provided a way for weak humans to come back into relationship with God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
3. The Resurrection announced the destruction of death.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:2 5 – 26)
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. (Rev. 1:17 – 18)
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:51 – 57)
4. Paul teaches the Resurrection as more than just an historical event; it was an eschatological event (i.e. End-Times). It was the first fruit of a transition in the human experience. Just as Christ was raised from the dead, so shall you be raised from the dead when He appears, but between His resurrection and your resurrection, you have access to His resurrected life by the Spirit. Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the eschatological resurrection of the whole human race at the End-of-the-Age, but the resurrection has started in this Age through the Spirit. We share in the resurrection power of Christ.
His resurrected life indwells every believer, releasing divine might and power unto transformation. The Cross of Christ provides the basis for forgiveness of sin and the resurrection life of Jesus breaks the power of sin in our lives and makes us into a new creation. There is a new life working in us. The law of sin and death no longer prevails in our mortal bodies. The resurrection power enables us to live the crucified life as it produces a glorious new creation within us. We are a supernatural people, a resurrection people testifying to the resurrected Christ who now dwells in us by His Spirit.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3: 1 – 5)
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10 – 11)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5)
5. The Resurrection testifies to a coming resurrection of the dead where Christ, the first fruit, will judge between the wicked and righteous. The righteous will rise unto eternal life and the wicked will rise unto eternal destruction.
For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this: for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge: and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:21 – 30)
And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:39 – 43)
Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30 – 31)
6. The Resurrection of Jesus displayed what characteristics our renewed, glorified and resurrected human bodies will have.
The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being; The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:42 – 45)