THE REALITY OF THE RESURRECTION
The resurrection is the Gibraltar of our faith. It is the foundation upon which Christianity stands or falls. If there is no resurrection, then there is no Christianity. This is the unassailable rock that all of the critics of history have failed to pull down.
It is the resurrection that moves Christianity out of the dry walls of philosophy and into the realm of actual history. We shall examine several lines of evidence for the resurrection.
THE EXISTENCE OF THE CHURCH
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon. The immensity of that natural wonder is difficult to conceive. I can say conclusively that the Grand Canyon was not created by an Indian dragging a stick. By the same token, the church was not created merely by a few people who came up with a philosophical idea.
All historians agree that the church was created by the preaching of the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
One of the greatest evidences of the resurrection is the church. Following the death of Christ, the foundling Christian movement was left with twelve disciples. One of them was a traitor and the other eleven were cowards -- they ran away. What movement can ever survive the loss of its leader if all that are left are eleven cowards and a traitor?
THE EMPTY TOMB
Christianity could have been stopped at any point in its early history. All anyone would have had to do would have been to bring out the body of Jesus and the infant church would have immediately disbanded. But it could not be done. The tomb was empty. Critics of the Bible have come up with several theories to try to explain how this could have been accomplished.
1. The Disciples Moved the Body.
The Jewish leaders never denied that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Instead the concocted a story to explain how the tomb became empty.
Now while they were on their way, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened.
And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers,
And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15).
The lie of the soldiers is a rather easy one to disprove. If, as was their claim, they were really asleep, then how would they know that it was the disciples who stole the body? And if they were not asleep, then why did they not prevent the theft. Furthermore, the noise involved in moving the heavy stone from the entrance to the tomb would have been more than enough to have awakened even the sleepiest guard.
Another problem with this theory is that no one had anything to gain by having moved the body. Neither the Jewish or Roman leaders would not have done it, for they found themselves allied against Christianity. The Disciples would not have done it, for they gave their very lives to insist upon the reality of the resurrection and people do not willingly give their lives for a cause they know to be untrue.
2. The Swoon Theory.
This theory says that Jesus did not die upon the cross but that He only fainted and that He later awoke in the coolness of the tomb, extricated Himself and was thought to have risen from the dead.
The problem with such a theory is that the Roman soldiers who were charged with putting Him to death were professionals. They specialized in taking live people and in making them dead. They checked the men upon the cross and they observed that they were dead. Not content with this observation, they then took direct action to make certain that they were dead.
The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him;
Crucifixion could normally last for several days. But if one wished to speed up the process, then all that was necessary was to break the legs of the victim. By doing so, he would no longer be able to raise himself up to get a breath of air into his lungs. As his arms cramped and pulled out of their sockets, he would find himself suffocating.
The soldiers carried this out upon the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they found that He was already dead. Not satisfied with this observation, they made certain of His death by taking a spear and plunging it up under his ribs and into His chest.
He had already been beaten. Then He had been scourged. Then He had been forced to carry His cross and had collapsed under its weight. Then He had been crucified with nails driven into His quivering flesh. Now a spear was driven into His side.
But that is not all. Once the corpse was taken down from the cross, it was turned over the Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus for burial.
And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body.
These two men took the body and wrapped it in burial cloths according to the custom of the Jews. Mixed with these clothes was a mixture of myrrh and aloes. The weight of these came it at about a hundred pounds. Even if a man had been able to survive crucifixion, the addition of these heavy wrappings would have been enough to kill him.
Yet even if our hypothetical person could have survived the scourging, the beating, the crucifixion, the spear in the side and the burial preparations, there still remained another obstacle. It was the stone.
This was a new tomb that had been excavated for a wealthy man and his family. As such, it had a large stone seal that would be used to close off the tomb.
And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.
This stone was so large that it represented a major obstacle to the three women who came to the tomb. It was such that they evidently doubted their own ability to move it. Yet when they arrived at the tomb, the stone had been rolled away.
But that is not all. Even if our intrepid corpse had been able to survive the beatings, the scourging, the crucifixion, the spear impalement, the wrappings and then moved the extremely heavy stone, he still would have had to contend with the soldiers who were guarding the tomb to make certain that he did not escape. The swoon theory faints, not merely for lack of evidence, but because it is impossible as an explanation.
3. The Mistaken Tomb Theory.
This theory states that in the early light of the morning, the women ran to the wrong tomb and found one that was empty and jumped to the mistaken conclusion that Jesus had risen.
There are some fatal problems with this theory. It says that...
4. The Vision Theory.
This theory says that the disciples suffered from a hallucinatory vision and only thought that they had seen the risen Jesus.
The problem with this view is that the disciples, upon hearing of the message of the resurrection given by the women who had gone to the tomb, did not believe it. Peter and John set out to the tomb to check it out for themselves. They found the tomb empty but still were not completely convinced. It was not until Jesus actually appeared in their midst that they came to believe.
Even in this regard, there was the exception of the person of Thomas.
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my fingers into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. (John 20:24-25).
I can identify with Thomas (It is my middle name). I can identify with him because he loved Jesus a whole lot.
He had left family and friends to follow Jesus. When the disciples had resisted the plan of Jesus to go to Bethany and from there to Jerusalem, it had been Thomas who was ready to go and die with Jesus (John 11:16).
He had been present at Gethsemane at the arrest of Jesus. He had fled in the night with the rest of the disciples and he had heard the news that Jesus had been crucified. He knew that the Lord's body had been taken by Joseph and Nicodemus and lain in an empty tomb.
Now as Thomas returns to the Upper Room, he finds the disciples raging with excitement. They say that they have seen Jesus.
But Thomas knows better. There must be some other explanation. Perhaps they have suffered a hallucination. Maybe they have been drinking too much wine. He resolves to demand proof. Visual testimony will not be enough. He wants the kind of evidence that you can measure in a laboratory.
And so, he says that unless he is given that kind of evidence, he WILL NOT believe (he uses a double negative in the Greek).
The skepticism of Thomas lasted for an entire week. Then Jesus appeared. The scene was the same. Once again, the disciples were gathered together. Once again, the doors were secured. The only difference is that this time Thomas was present.
And suddenly, Jesus was there! The words of Jesus are an echo of the demands that Thomas had made a week earlier.
The Demands of Thomas
The Offer of Jesus
Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails...
See My hands...
And put my finger into the place of the nails...
Reach here your finger...
And put my hand into His side...
Reach your hand, and put it into My side.
I will not believe.
Be not unbelieving, but believing.
The empty tomb stands as evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. This evidence was available to all who were interested. Anyone in Jerusalem could have walked to the tomb in five minutes to see it for themselves.
THE POST RESURRECTION APPEARANCES OF JESUS
It is hard to say that someone is still dead when he keeps showing himself to different groups of people.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Paul mentions six different groups of witnesses. These are not all that could be mentioned. They are only a representative sampling.
The testimony of the women is lacking from Paul’s account, not because he was unaware of it, but because he is citing legal testimony. The testimony of a woman was not always legally admissible.
The name Cephas is simply Aramaic for the Greek nickname "Peter." They both refer to the name that was given to Simon.
Jesus actually appeared to the Twelve on several occasions. The first time was when Thomas was absent. A week later Jesus appeared to them again, this time with Thomas in their midst.
There was a large and unnamed crowd to which Jesus appeared alive. By the time Paul penned these words, a few had died, but the rest remained alive. The point he makes is that, in the day of his writing, one could find literally hundreds of eye witnesses to the resurrection. He says in effect, "If you have any doubts about the resurrection, go ask one of them."
You might get two or three people to agree to a lie and testify to it under the threat of persecution and death, but here we have 500 witnesses.
The resurrected Jesus did not appear only to believers. He also appeared in at least one case to one who did not believe. Such is the case with James.
James was the half-brother of Jesus. He was the son of Joseph and Mary who was born after the virgin birth. He had his other brothers did not believe in Jesus.
For not even His brothers were believing in Him (John 7:5).
This changed after the resurrection. Why? What brought about this change? I believe it was because of the resurrection. James saw his brother who had risen from the grave and that resurrection brought him to faith.
This likely refers to the last appearance of Jesus while he was on the Mount of Olives. It was at this time that He gave them their commission to go out to all the earth and make disciples.
Paul is another example of an unbeliever who saw for himself the risen Jesus. Paul had actually set up himself as the chief opponent against the Christians. He was so adamant against Christianity that he set out to persecute Christians and have them imprisoned. When he ran out of Christians to persecute in Jerusalem, he received permission to travel to Damascus to persecute Christians there. It was on the way that he had an encounter with the risen Jesus.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE DISCIPLES
When we look at the character of the disciples at the time of the crucifixion, we do not see an example of the brave and the bold. Instead they represent the afraid and the cowardly. They have been demoralized and defeated.
But when we look at these same men after the resurrection, there is a dramatic difference. They speak with boldness and confidence before kings and governors. They eventually would go on to seal their testimony with their own blood as they were martyred for their witness that a dead Rabbi had arisen from the grave.
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