Did the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Really Happen?

 

 

The early historian Eusebius (260-before 341 A.D.), Bishop of Cĺsarea in Palestine and known to us as the "Father of Church History," calculated that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ took place on the fourteenth of Nissan, likely Friday, April 7th in the year of Rome 783, 30 A.D.. The event is dateable with a reasonable accuracy.

 

The importance of the resurrection

 

“The resurrection of Jesus was an act of God in history, an act of decisive importance for the Christian faith and comparable, according to Paul, only to the act of creation from nothing (Rom. 4:17).”[1]

 

1)    Everything that Jesus Christ taught, lived and dies for depended upon His resurrection.

2)    Christianity is not founded upon an ideology, it is founded upon a historical event.

A)   Christianity can only be affirmed if the resurrection is presented as a historical event—else Christianity is a myth and our faith is in vain.

3)     Without his resurrection from the dead, Jesus’ crucifixion would only be seen as the final disaster of Jesus’ career.

4)    The resurrection moves Christianity from the philosophical realm  and forces it to be an issue of history

A)   Viewed from history the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either history’s greatest delusion or the most fantastic fact ever recorded.

 

Christianity rises or falls on one historical event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus rose from the dead, then everything he claimed is true–he is the Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah. If he did not rise from the dead, then all the things he said and taught are worthless. Paul says that if Jesus is not risen from the dead, the Christian faith is empty and meaningless (1 Cor 15:17-19). Christians believe that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. One cannot claim to be a Christian unless he believes this central doctrine (cf. 1 Cor 15: 1-4).

 

Did the Resurrection Happen?

 

Whether or not an event took place in the past can only be settled by historical argument.

The scientific method relies upon observable and repeatable events. Because individual events from history are not necessarily repeatable, the scientific method cannot settle the historicity of past events. Therefore the veracity of the resurrection can only be examined by the same criteria used to verify the historicity of any other past event.

 

1.  PREMISES

In order to accept the resurrection, our presuppositions must include:

1) Truth is objective and to some degree knowable.

2) Theism (the existence of God).

3) The possibility of miracles.

4) The historical reliability of the Bible, esp. the NT.

 

 

The empty tomb

“The empty tomb—taken by itself—is not the decisive evidence for the Christian claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But without admitting that friend and foe at Jerusalem knew the tomb was empty, the situation of the early Christian proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection at Jerusalem, of all places, is historically not conceivable.”[2]

 

 

 

2.  DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD?

All opinions about the resurrection may be classified into nine groups. These nine groups can be further clarified visually (with thanks to Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor [San Bernardino, Calif.: Here’s Life, 1981], 63-103)

                     

 

THE EVIDENCE: In small groups, read over the evidence regarding the resurrection.  The NT writers have rather obviously reached a conclusion in favor of Jesus’ resurrection, but I want us to simply concentrate on the evidence—factors to be reckoned with—and how that evidence fits with the proposed options.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Mark 15:42-16:14

Matthew 27:57-28:15

Luke 23:50-24:12

Luke 24:13-49

John 19:31-21:1

 

FACTORS TO CONSIDER

1.  Legend                                          

2.  Wrong/Unknown Tomb    

3.  Spiritual Resurrection        

4.  Hallucinations


5.  Stolen by Authorities

6.  Stolen by Disciples

7.  Swooned

8.  Mutant Bacteria (!)

9.  God

 

ANALYSIS

A) Factors:

1)    500 eye witnesses

2)    Variety of witnesses at various times

3)    Jesus died

4)    Believers still believing

5)    Joseph—knew where the tomb was

6) Women knew the tomb

7) Women saw Jesus first

8) Confirmed dead

9) Tomb was sealed by Romans

10) A Roman guard was set

11) Jesus talks and has a touchable body

12) Disciples were not expecting a resurrection

13) The tomb was empty—witnessed by Peter, John and Mary

14) Grave cloths were still there (i.e., why take the body and not take the ceremonial wrappings?)

15) Jesus eats

16) Jesus has wounds

17) Stabbed in the side by Roman “death expert” flies in the face of the Swoon Theory

 

1)    Motive

2)    Means

3)    Opportunity

 

B)   Wrong tomb theory

a)     Joseph and the two Marys knew where the tomb was

b)    All the authorities would have had to do to refute the disciples was go to the “right” tomb

 

 

C)   Legend theory

B)   If only a legend, then they could have produced a body—but they could not

D)   Body stolen by the authorities

a)     If so, why did they not produce the body when the disciples were preaching Jesus risen in the Temple?

 

The best answer is that the New Testament reports the truth because too many people knew the truth.

 

 

We can suggest the following in support of Jesus’ resurrection.[3]

 

1.     The death of Jesus was actual, literal and genuine. He did not just pass out, faint or temporarily lose consciousness. The crucifixion extinguished Jesus’ physical life.

Roman soldiers crucified Jesus and finished the execution. To quicken death, they broke the legs of the two criminals crucified on each side of Jesus. But when they came to Jesus they did not break his legs, because from experience they knew he was already dead. As a final precaution, however, they thrust a spear into his side, thus insuring his death. Further, those who handled Jesus’ body after removing it from the cross were convinced that he was really dead.

2.     The gravesite was secure.

The Jewish leaders met with Pilate to urge him to secure the gravesite. They said Jesus had predicted he would rise in 3 days. To assure that the disciples could not conspire in a resurrection hoax, Pilate ordered the official seal of Rome to be attached to the tomb to prevent any grave-robbers from tampering with the tomb. To enforce the order, soldiers stood guard. A huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb as added security.

3.     The tomb was found empty.

On the morning after the Sabbath, some of Jesus' followers went to the grave to anoint his body. But when they arrived, they were surprised at what they found: the huge stone had been moved and Jesus' body was gone. As word got out, two disciples rushed to the burial site. The tomb was empty except for Jesus' burial wrappings, which were lying neatly in place. In the meantime, some of the guards had gone into Jerusalem to tell the Jewish officials that they had fainted in the presence of a supernatural being that rolled the stone away. And when they woke up, the tomb was empty. The officials paid the guards a large sum of money to lie and say that the disciples stole the body while the soldiers slept.

4.     Many people claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ.

Paul wrote that himself, Peter and the other apostles, James, and more than 500 people at one time had seen the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 15:5-8). By making such a public statement, he gave critics a chance to check out his claims for themselves. In addition, Luke begins his second book (Acts) by saying that Jesus “presented Himself alive after his suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by [the apostles] during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Eyewitness testimony is very strong.

5.     The apostles changed dramatically after the resurrection.

Jesus’ disciples were in a state of panic and utter depression after the crucifixion. Even Peter, who earlier had insisted that he was ready to die for his teacher, lost heart and denied that he even knew Jesus. But the apostles went through a dramatic change after the resurrection. Soon they were courageously standing face to face with the ones who had crucified their leader. Their spirit was like iron. They became unstoppable in their determination to obey the risen Christ. Even threats of imprisonment, torture and death did not stop them (Acts 5:42).

6.     The apostles were willing to die for their claims.

While it’s not uncommon for people to be willing to die for what they believe to be the truth, few if any will die for what they know to be a lie. That fact is important because the disciples of Christ did not die for deeply held beliefs about which they could have been honestly mistaken. They died for their claims to have seen Jesus alive and well after his resurrection. They never would have willingly gone to their deaths for what they knew to be a lie.


7.     Jewish Christians changed their day of worship.

The Sabbath day of rest and worship was basic to the Jewish way of life. Any Jew who did not honor the Sabbath was guilty of breaking the Law of Moses. Yet Jewish followers of Christ began worshiping with Gentile believers on a new day. The first day of the week, the day on which they believed Christ had risen from the dead, replaced the Sabbath. For a Jew, it reflected a major change of life. The new day, along with the Christian conversion rite of baptism, declared that those who believed Christ had risen from the dead were ready for more than a renewal of Judaism. They believed that the death and resurrection of Christ had cleared the way for a new relationship with God.

8.     Jesus and the prophets predicted the resurrection.

Jesus repeatedly claimed that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to die and be resurrected from the dead. Isaiah also predicted a suffering servant who would bear the sins of Israel, being led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53).

9.     The resurrection is central in the preaching of the Gospel.

The message that the apostles took to the “ends of the earth” was a message of the resurrection of Christ. As one reads through the book of Acts, he finds that the good news always included the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection was not added to the message years later. The Gospel without a resurrection is no Gospel at all. Faith in the resurrection is not a side issue; it is the essence of Christianity.

10.  The very existence of the Church argues for the reality of the resurrection.

If the resurrection never happened, what explains the transformation of that small band of terrified disciples in to men and women who were willing to suffer and die because of their refusal to renounce Jesus’ resurrection? What changed them into bold, confident, courageous witnesses, willing to carry the gospel to every corner of the world? Only the resurrection explains it.

 

 

The conclusion to all this evidence strongly suggests that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. Good, honest, trustworthy people who had nothing to gain and everything to lose believed that Jesus rose from the dead. However, skeptics and critics of the Bible suggest the following false theories as to what “really” happened after the crucifixion:[4]

 

x  The Swoon Theory

Jesus did not really die, he only fainted; therefore the disciples saw only a revived or resuscitated Christ. When he was placed in the tomb, he was still alive and the disciples, mistaking him for dead, buried him alive. After several hours, he revived in the coolness of the tomb, arose, and departed.

The absurdity of this theory is apparent.

First, the Roman soldiers were convinced that he was dead even before they speared him.

Second, the idea that Jesus could revive in the tomb, push away the stone, overcome the soldiers and convince his disciples that he had miraculously risen from the dead is simply beyond belief.

Third, the linen wrappings that clothed Jesus’ dead body were undisturbed in the tomb.

 

x  The Hallucination Theory

Those who claimed to see Jesus after the crucifixion were hallucinating. The apostles so desired and expected to see Jesus that they experienced mass hallucinations.

Again, the impossibility of this is apparent. How could so many people have hallucinations–especially 500 at one time? Hallucinations are not contagious. Furthermore, the appearances happened under different conditions and at different times. And, don’t forget, the disciples were reluctant to believe in the resurrection in the first place! Plus, they didn’t simply see Jesus; they touched him and spoke to Him. This false theory simply is irrational.

 

x  The Impersonation Theory

This is the view that the appearances were not really Christ at all, but someone impersonating Him. This, the opponents say, is evident because in some cases they did not recognize him at first (or at all). However, several facts show this theory to be implausible.

1.     The disciples were reluctant to believe in the resurrection, were doubtful and would have been hard to convince unless it was really him, as was the case with Thomas.

2.     It would have been impossible to impersonate Christ’s wounds. This was Christ’s proof to Thomas that it was really he (cf. John 20:24f).

3.     At times their inability to recognize him was a phenomenon of his glorified body brought about by his own purposes as in Luke 24:16, “But their eyes were restricted that they should not recognize Him.”

4.     These men had close personal interaction with the Lord for three years. It is highly improbable that an impersonator could have deceived them.

5.     They were meeting in locked chambers in some instances, and he suddenly appeared and then vanished. No one could fake such miraculous acts.

 

x  The Spiritual Resurrection Theory

This is the view that Christ’s resurrection was not a real physical resurrection. Proponents of this theory assert that Christ’s body remained in the grave and his real resurrection was spiritual in nature. The story was told as it was to illustrate the truth of spiritual resurrection. This is what many liberals believe. However, this theory lacks credibility for several reasons.

1.     A physical body did disappear from the tomb. If it was only a spiritual resurrection, then what happened to the body? History shows there was a body there and it disappeared.

2.     The resurrection accounts are not presented in parabolic or symbolic language, but as hard fact. John 20 is full of what Greek grammarians call vivid historical present tenses to stress the historical reality of the Gospel message.

3.     The record states he was touched and handled, that he had a body, and that he even ate with the disciples (Luke 24:30, 41f; John 21:12f).

4.     First Corinthians 15 teaches us that Christ not only arose, but that he arose bodily. He possessed a glorified body which had unique capacities. First Corinthians 15:44 calls it a spiritual body, but it was nevertheless a physical body as well. Note the following facts about the body of Christ:

ü     He could appear in different forms (Mark16:12).

ü     He could eat, though it was not needed for sustenance (Luke 24:30).

ü     He could appear and disappear and could pass through solid objects (John 20:19, 26).

ü     He could pass in a moment from one place to another (Luke 24:31).

Philippians 3:21 shows that his body was glorious and unique, but nevertheless, still a body according to which our bodies will one day be fashioned. So, it was spiritual, glorified, and yet a physical body of flesh and bone.

 

x  The Theft Theory

The disciples or someone else stole the body. Matthew 28:11-15 indicates that the Jewish leaders paid off the soldiers who guarded the tomb, encouraging them to tell the authorities that the disciples stole the body.

Who COULD and WOULD steal the body under the circumstances?

1.     The Romans could have but would not have. Pilate had agreed to have guards watch and seal the tomb in order to prevent such a theft.[5]

2.     The Jewish leaders could not and would not. They were the ones who had requested a guard to protect the tomb against theft (Mt 27:63-66). The presence of the soldiers and the seal over the door made it virtually impossible for anyone to steal the body.

If any of the enemies of Jesus had taken the body, they would have brought it forward as soon as any claims of resurrection were made. The easiest way to end the whole affair would have been to parade the corpse of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem, proving to everyone that he was still dead. The fact that they didn’t do that suggests that they didn’t have the body.

3.     The women could not and would not, for they were wondering who would remove the stone for them when they went early Sunday morning to finish burial preparations (cf. Mark16:3-4).

4.     The disciples could not and would not because they were perplexed and scattered, huddled together in locked rooms. Some had even left town. The likelihood of these timid, anxious, disorganized men stealing the body of Jesus out from under the noses of a guard of highly disciplined and skilled soldiers while they all slept (an offense punishable by death) is ridiculous.

 

x  The Mistaken (or Unknown) Tomb Theory

One of the earliest false theories suggests that the disciples did not know where the tomb was located and probably went to the wrong empty tomb. This theory depends on the belief that those who were crucified were tossed into a common pit and that no one was sure where the authorities put the corpse.

This theory also disregards the straightforward historical narrative about the events surrounding Christ’s burial and the post-resurrection scene. The Gospel record indicates that Joseph of Arimathea received permission from Pilate to take the body to his own private tomb, not to a public mass burial ground. According to Scripture, the body of Christ was prepared for burial according to the burial customs of the Jews. Everyone involved knew where the tomb was. It’s simply irrational to think that the disciples would all go to the wrong tomb.

 

None of these theories adequately deals with the evidence of the known facts that surrounded the resurrection of our Lord. In order to believe such theories, one must totally reject the NT record, which there is no good reason to do. The evidence clearly asserts that he arose, and the resurrection marks him out as the Son of God (Rom 1:4), the Savior of the world.

If one comes to the conclusion that the NT records are basically reliable, he would also have to grant that Jesus must have risen from the dead. If so, He is exactly who he claimed to be.

 

Conclusion:  We’ve seen that there is adequate evidence to believe that the resurrection actually did occur. It’s an historical event beyond doubt. All the theories that attempt to explain away the resurrection have proven to be absurd and/or unreasonable.

 

Discussion:

1.     What is the primary source of information about the resurrection?  The NT.

2.     What makes the resurrection such an important event?  Because Christianity is based on it. It’s the central doctrine of the faith.

3.     What do you think are the strongest lines of evidence that Jesus rose from the dead?  The empty tomb, eyewitness testimony, accurate reporting of events.

4.     What must skeptics assume in order to discount the resurrection?  They have to assume that the NT records are wrong.

5.     How can you convince someone that the resurrection is true if he or she does not believe the NT records?  You can’t. One must trust that the Bible is true because it’s the only source of information on the topic. But there’s good reason to believe that the NT records are true.

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Resurrection of Jesus

The resurrection of Jesus is the most prominent manifestation of the power of God’s future in the dynamics of history. That this event really happened in the midst of our human history is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, for Paul says: “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). As early as the time of Paul, there were people at Corinth who insisted “that there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12). It is not known whether from this general assertion they drew the conclusion that neither could Jesus have been raised. It was Paul who exposed this consequence: “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised” (15:13). (Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Resurrection,” Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002, p. 259.)

 

The end of human history

The New Testament taught that a general resurrection of the just and the unjust was to be expected. The vital connection between the general resurrection and Christ’s resurrection was strongly indicated by Paul: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:13).

 

The first century Jews commonly knew that the general resurrection means the end of human history. Resurrection is the event that occurs at the end of history. Resurrection is the end of history.

 

Thus if the resurrection takes place in our midst, then we are already at the end. In the resurrection of Jesus, the beholders immediately recognize this event as the firstfruits of the general resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18) and thus are given a glimpse of the end and therefore the meaning of human history. Therefore they have received a final revelation of world history which speaks in their midst from the end. Thus the resurrection would have meant that the end of time had begun.

 

Jesus’ earthly ministry shared in the apocalyptic focus upon the end, proclaiming, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2 cf. Matt. 4:17; Matt. 10:7; Matt. 12:28; Mark 1:14; Mark 1:15; Mark 9:1; Mark 14:25; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Luke 8:10; Luke 9:2; Luke 9:11; Luke 9:27; Luke 9:60; Luke 10:9; Luke 10:11; Luke 11:20; Luke 16:16; Luke 17:21; Luke 21:30-31; Luke 22:16). When Jesus rose from the dead, he confirmed what had been anticipated in his proclamation. Thus in Him the end occurs in a sense “ahead of time” as a foreshadowing of the age to come as if the end of human history were already taken into the present or received already. Hence when the disciples beheld the risen Lord they understood that they were already standing at the end of time, at the last days, the general resurrection. This reckoning wasn’t a gradual process, but was fully formed in the instant of encountering the risen Lord (ref. Thomas Oden, 2001, The Word of Life, pp. 457, 458, 459, 460-61).



[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Resurrection,” Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002, p. 254.

[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Resurrection,” Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002, p. 260.

[3] Some of this material from Ten Reasons to Believe, RBC Ministries, http://www.gospelcom.net/rbc/rtb

[4] From False Theories Against the Resurrection of Christ by J. Hampton Keathley III. The Biblical Studies Foundation, 1997.

[5] There is some doubt as to whether the guards were Roman or Jewish Temple guards. The guards may have been the same (Roman) ones who were in charge of the crucifixion. It seems more likely that they were Jewish because they reported to the High Priest rather than to the Roman authorities. In either case they never would have fallen asleep on the job.

 

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