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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

24 Mar

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With each new historical account that is published about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the result is yet another attempt at discrediting history.  In a sense, every skeptical generation’s “fresh look” at these events this may suffice as unintended evidence of historical reliability and documentation accuracy throughout the years.  It is either reliability or, as skeptics maintain, the grandest collusion and hoax ever perpetuated upon mankind.  However, what are the chances of such collusion stretching across at least twenty centuries?  That said, whether doubt by skeptics or reaffirmation by advocates, when it comes to addressing the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, there is truly nothing new under the sun.  I shall elaborate.

An example of this is the two-thousand years of discussion and supposed refutation of the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Despite a new generation of scholars, or recent attempts to gain personal notoriety, it all comes down to denials of the historicity of the event. In fact, there are only so many ways to deny history. Yet, skeptics continue and with each attempt, another debunking occurs. With each new attempt to invalidate the resurrection, we must “be ready to give to every man an answer for the reason of the hope that lies within . . .” (1 Peter 3:15)

But what is at stake in all of this? It is simple, really. The moment the resurrection is falsified, the entire Christian faith collapses. Christianity is founded on Jesus, and is validated in His life, death, and resurrection. Simply put. Show Jesus to be a liar and it’s over. Demonstrate that someone other than the biblical Jesus lived and died, or that history is incorrect, and all of Christianity and truth come tumbling down.

Dr. Bruce Chilton, in a 2013 cable television interview with John McLaughlin was addressing his book Mary Magdalene, but stated the following: The body of Jesus is still here on the earth and that he only resurrected in a spiritual sense, much like an angelic form.” Chilton also argues that disciples later formed the argument that Jesus’s body rose from the dead. This is nothing new, as the reader with see.

Dr. Murray Harris (1990), in his book From Grave To Glory, says something very close to this. He maintains that the body that entered the tomb was not the literal body that exited the tomb. So, in both Chilton’s and Harris’s cases, there is little explanation as to what happened to Jesus’s literal body if it did not exit the tomb literally.

Religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not believe Jesus was God, and therefore, His resurrection is an event with which He had little to do. Again, they maintain Jesus was resurrected as a spirit, and the body vaporized in the process. The Mormons also believe in something similar. Both believe Jesus is not God, as orthodoxy would maintain via the canons. Chilton believes Jesus was God in the flesh, but not “God enough” to raise Himself from the dead in His literal body.

Dr. Norman Geisler sees this entire Battle for the Resurrection as satanic. He writes: “Satan’s strategy does not change. He begins by casting doubt on God’s Word . . . Then, if Satan is successful in casting doubt on God’s Word, he will find new ways to ‘spiritualize’ away it’s literal truth. That is, if he cannot get people to doubt that the Bible is God’s Word, he will get them to question how it is to be interpreted. The first strategy worked with the theological liberals. The second strategy is aimed at evangelicals.” (p. 21)

Whether derived from satanic deception, the human mind, or both, the challenges remain. “Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead in the body in which he died?” If He did not, how then could a resurrection be proclaimed?

I am approaching the topic of “The Resurrection” from seven aspects, which include: (1) The Foundation of the Christian Faith, (2) The Early Church, (3) Defense at Corinth, (4) Questioning Our Existence, (5) If Jesus Rose, (6) Attacks upon Christianity that Focus on the Resurrection, and (7) Considerations and Implications.

ONE: THE FOUNDATION FOR THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

The foundation for the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This doctrine is verified by even the most ardent of adversaries. In fact, all antagonists have done the church a favor over the years by stating quite clearly the beliefs of the early church. They then proceed to assault these beliefs. Arianism is just one example.

The church councils over the years, including Nicaea and Constantinople met to codify the Church’s beliefs and stand against heresy. A few great reads on these topics, should the reader desire further information, include: The History of the Christian Church (Philip Schaaf); Heresies Exposed (Louis Talbot); Evidence that Demands a Verdict, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, The Resurrection (all by Josh McDowell), In Defense of the Resurrection (Norman Geisler), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Aldred Edersheim), and Testimony of the Evangelists (Simon Greenleaf).

The historicity of the view of Jesus’s literal, bodily resurrection is the capstone Christian event. Throughout the ages, the resurrection has been a major unifying doctrine of all Christendom. Without the Resurrection, there is no uniqueness to Christ and Christianity.

TWO: THE EARLY CHURCH

An event such as the Resurrection is sure to elicit skepticism, even among supporters, whether in the early church or in today’s pews. As humans, we struggle with assurance and security issues, particularly when we are not certain that history and scholarship are on our side. However, much of the doubt occurs today because of laziness in scholarship on the part of the average Christian, and a malaise toward truth, especially when cultural and personal beliefs get in the way.

Despite being just a few years removed from the literal event, some the early church believers struggled with the event. There is similarity today in this struggle. The more immorality and unchecked sin found in the church, the less the adherence to doctrinal truth.  Slippage of truth muddies all truth, especially if the slippage occurs with a foundational truth, such as the Resurrection, or deity of Jesus, for example. This is where the Church at Corinth struggled. They allowed culture and acceptable behaviors of culture to dictate doctrinal positions. There is nothing new here.

Whether accepting divorce as a norm, homosexual marriage are part of God’s plan, or any other sinful practice, once the church acquiesces to cultural practices doctrinal slippage is right behind. This plagued the early church at Corinth and it plagues us today.  Sinful practices that are corrected means the church is active in dealing with its ills.  Practices unchecked and tolerated lead to abounding errors.

Observe the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

THREE: DEFENSE AT CORINTH

Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) The apostle rested his entire argument on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In fact, either Jesus did rise, making it the most glorious event in the history of the world, or he did not rise, and we are all deceived. Such a deception would prove Jesus a liar, and therefore not God. So, we see Paul rested his entire case for the faith on the Resurrection. As a Jew, and former persecutor of the followers of Jesus, this was monumental.

FOUR: QUESTIONING OUR EXISTENCE

Some serious considerations emerge from discussions on the Resurrection. Namely, (1) Where have we come from? (2) Why are we here? (3) What is our destiny? (Paul Little, Know What and Why You Believe series)

If Jesus is God, and proved this through His Life, death, and Resurrection, then He is trustworthy. When He validates the Scriptures, we must listen. For in them, we learn more about ourselves and our purposes for existence. Without the Resurrection, we can have little-to-no-trust in all other things attributed to Jesus. With the Resurrection, there is truth about our existence, both here and after death.

FIVE: IF JESUS ROSE

If Jesus rose from the dead, then we can be certain that God exists. We can also be certain that He cares about us as people, individually and personally, and that the expansive universe has meaning and purpose. Therefore, we can trust God that what He says about life and death are true, making our current experience in this world just as important as those who have gone before us. Since death is a universal experience, none of us will escape this world alive. This is exactly the point of the Resurrection. Only God could escape the plight that plagues all humans.

But Who raised Jesus? The Bible is clear that the following is true:

(1) God the Father raised Jesus. Observe John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” Also observe Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 33-34, 37. (NASB)

(2) The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. We see this in Romans 8:11. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (NASB)

(3) The Son raised Himself from the dead. We see this in Romans 1:4, “Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . and John 10:17-18, The Son Himself lays down His life and takes it up again.” (NASB)

It is clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. Still, asks the doubter, “Who raised Jesus from the dead?” The only complete answer is that God did. It is apparent that the trinity was involved in the Resurrection. Romans 10:9-10 demonstrates this truth: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (NIV)

SIX: ATTACKS UPON CHRISTIANITY THAT FOCUS ON THE RESURRECTION

There are just three reasons for all attacks upon the Resurrection. First, the event is attacked because it is foundational and center to the Faith. If the foundation goes, then so too goes all upon which it is built. Second, the event is attacked so as to make every effort to discredit the Savior. If the event did not happen, then we do not have a Savior. Third, if the Bible is incorrect and contains the record of a false messiah, and inaccurate accounts of the Resurrection, then it is open to being challenged on all other moral fronts. Every culture has dealt with these considerations and implications, as they pertain to the Christian faith.

SEVEN: CONSIDERATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

Here are three things to consider when answering the question “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”

1. First, we must consider the historical fact of the Christian Church worldwide. The church has a historical beginning and emergence. It is true that other religions have historical beginnings. However, no other religion is based on such a profound event as the Resurrection.

The history of the Church traces to AD 32, in Palestine. The Book of Acts chronicles stories about entire communities that were affected by the message of the Resurrection. Unlike other religions, there was no secret message given behind closed doors, or through curtains, or theology derived from one man’s words and writings. The message of the Resurrection was wide open, spread openly, and tested by communities and scholars of the day. The same is true for today.

Believers in Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. In Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul’s preaching persuaded some of the Jews and Greeks, as well as women, to believe in Jesus and the Resurrection message. Unlike religions of the day, and some even today, women were included in the Faith from the very beginning. The message of the Resurrection turned the world upside down. We read this in Acts 17:6, “When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have upset the world have come here also’ . . .”

Throughout the ages, believers referred to the Resurrection as the basis for their teaching, preaching, living, and eventually dying. Evidence of the latter is Acts 6:11-14, where Stephen is the first record martyr in the Bible. One must question whether a person is willing to both live for a lie, and die for the same lie.

The Bereans were noble people, in that they studied and did their own research before they believed in Jesus and His resurrection. We see this in Acts 17:11, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

2. Second, the fact that Sunday is the day of worship for Christians means that shifting the worship calendar from the Sabbath, the 7th day of the week, to Sunday, the 1st day of the week was enormous. Acts 20:7 provides evidence that believers gathered together to commemorate the Resurrection event “on the first day of the week.” This is quite remarkable, in that many numbered in the first believers were Jews.

3. Third, there is the fact of the recorded New Testament. There are vast numbers of independent testimonies to the historicity of the resurrection. From Josephus to the modern historians, the records are clear. The New Testament includes eyewitnesses in John, Peter, and Matthew. Saul of Tarsus has an encounter with the risen Jesus, and accepted the resurrection without question (Acts 9:1, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Thomas believed in the Resurrection after touching the literal, physical body of the risen Savior. His proclamation of “My Lord, and my God,” stands as a believer’s skepticism turned affirmation (John 20:28).

There is no evidence to indicate that the Resurrection did not occur. There are several theories propagated as attempts to explain away the event, but no evidence exists to the contrary. In fact, the empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances are events discussed by believers and non-believers alike. The fact remains, that Jesus is not in a tomb. There is no body and no one can claim that there is a body. I will revisit this point in a later section.

All other deceased religious and political leaders of the past remain dead and in their graves and tombs. The challenge remains today as it has always remained. Prove that Jesus did not rise from dead as He said, and the entire Christian faith collapses as a house of cards.

WHAT ABOUT THE EMPTY TOMB?

First, the earliest explanation of the empty tomb was the claim that the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus. This is recorded in Matthew 28:11-15. The Jewish religious leaders gave out money to the soldiers and told them to claim that the disciples came at night while they were asleep, and stole the body. This can be discounted by the fact that any Roman soldier asleep on duty was sure to face punishment, and even death.

Each of the disciples of Jesus faced torture and, all but the Apostle John, were martyred for believing in Jesus, His deity and His resurrection. We must consider whether people are willing and able to die for lies, or whether they die for beliefs which they “think” to be true. There is a stark difference for believing in something they believe to be true and dying for it, versus believing in something they know to be false, yet dying for it. There is also a major difference is dying for something true, regardless our beliefs. The disciples died knowing and believing, actually having contact with the resurrected Truth, Himself.

If Jesus truly remained dead, and His disciples had stolen His corpse, then how does one explain the appearances of Jesus alive? The record indicates He appeared to many, after His resurrection. Here are some examples of His appearances.
~Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18)
~Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5)
~The Eleven (minus Thomas) (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25)
~Thomas (John 20:19-20; 24-31)
~Seven Disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21: 1-23)
~James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
~Group of Women (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10)
~Cleopas (Luke 24:13-35)
~The Eleven (John 20:26-29)
~Disciples; Large Gathering mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:6)
~Ascension (Luke 24:49-53; Acts 1:3-11)

There is an interesting statement in Gospel of Matthew, which historians have somehow left alone. There is a reference that the tombs were opened and many dead appeared directly after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This was no small event interpreted by a small sect of faithful believers. His death and resurrection had profound effects upon the world.

Observe Matthew 28:50-53: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.”

He did not die so that subsequent cultures worldwide could invalidate His teachings on marriage, relationships, love, or to somehow allow non-Christian validation to beliefs and practices contrary to what He and the Apostles taught on, pertaining to the same. Jesus certainly did not resurrect to bring fresh, new cultural perspectives based on sexual attraction and orientations. He conquered sin, with which all of us have to contend, and all of us “used to practice.” It is timely that the Supreme Court is hearing a case on California’s same-sex marriage law. Where is Christ in all of this? This remains to be seen.

Second, there is the hypothesis that the authorities of the day moved the body from the tomb. This is an argument that is easily refuted. Why would Roman guards be necessary if the authorities intended to remove the body? Why then pay the soldiers to say the disciples stole the body, if the authorities were the culprits? The telltale signs are these, (1) No Jewish or Roman authorities stepped forward to refute the Resurrection, and no one produced the body of Jesus to stem the tide of the spread of Christianity throughout the years.

The religious leaders were so angry that they did all they could to stop the message from spreading, even later arresting and beating Peter and John (Acts 4). But, it was too late. However, imagine for a moment that the authorities actually had the body of Jesus. Who in their right minds would believe the body would not have been produced, so as to allow Christianity to flourish?

Third, another popular theory is that because of distress and darkness, those who arrived first at the tomb were confused and actually arrived at the wrong tomb. Critics, conclude, “No wonder the tomb was empty, it was the wrong tomb!” Again, this theory is weak. If the first visitors, who were women, went to the wrong, then it would have been easy to later produce the body from the right tomb.

This theory is quite offensive to women, by implying they were in such a poor emotional state that had no sense of direction in the early morning hours. Furthermore, how likely is it that after burying a loved one that all of His friends would arrive at the wrong place of burial? Since the tomb was a borrowed burial place, we must also assume that the owner, Joseph of Arimathea, would have easily identified his own private property. After all, Jesus was not buried in a public cemetery.

Fourth, the silliest—yet one of the theories that garners a lot of attention still today—addresses Jesus’s death and resurrection through what is called the “Swoon Theory.” This theory proposes that Jesus did not actually die in the first place. He was simply reported as dead, and appeared as such from the torture and exhaustion.. The theory also proposes that with the coolness of the tomb, and with rest and recovery, Jesus revived and everyone thought Him to be resurrected.

Would Jesus have survived His wounds? Would he have survived approximately 75 pounds of spice wrappings? If so, He would have had to extricate Himself from these wrappings and heavy grave-clothes, rise from his stone slab, muster the strength to push lift a stone from its moorings with hands pierced with spikes, and roll it away from the tomb entrance. He then would have had to overcome Roman guards, and walk miles on feet pierced with a spike. Furthermore, to do all of this, we must assume that the Roman soldier who pierced his heart with his sword, actually missed, and Jesus’s heart, or surrounding tissue regenerated somehow within three days. The bottom line is this: Jesus would have had to lie to His disciples about His death, if He was merely swooning and recovered. Thus, the world’s greatest hoax would then have been perpetuated.

One last point remains, with little attention from history. If this theory is correct, then Jesus died sometime later in history. Where then, does His body lie? Regardless the theory, it all comes down to one thing: Where is the body of Jesus? The answer given at the empty tomb still resonates today. In Luke 24:1-8, we read:

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.”

Here are some advocates of the swoon theory, throughout history.

1. 1780: German Karl Friedrich Bahrdt claimed Jesus deliberately feigned his death, using drugs provided by the physician Luke, to appear as a spiritual messiah and cause Israel to abandon the idea of a political messiah. Later, Jesus was then resuscitated by Joseph of Arimathea, in whose tomb He was placed. Jesus was assumed to have Essene connections with Joseph and together they plotted the conspiracy.

2. 1800, Karl Venturini proposed that a group of supporters dressed in white, who were part of an underground “secret society” but heard groaning from inside the tomb, where Jesus had regained consciousness in the cool, damp air. They then frightened away the guards and rescued him.

3. 1802: Heinrich Paulus, wrote that he believed that Jesus had fallen into a temporary coma and somehow revived without help in the tomb.

4. 1920: Ernest Brougham Docker speculates about the theory in If Jesus Did Not Die on the Cross.

5. 1965: Hugh J. Schonfield addresses the possibility of the theory in The Passover Plot.

6. 1982. Holy Blood, Holy Grail, speculated that Pontius Pilate was bribed to allow Jesus to be taken down from the cross before he was dead.

7. In 1992, Barbara Thiering explored the swoon theory in-depth in her book Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

8. 1994: Holger Kersten addresses the theory in Jesus lived in India.

9. 2006, Baigent published The Jesus Papers, a book that describes how Jesus may have survived the crucifixion.

In closing, we hearken back to the words of Geisler: “The bodily resurrection of Christ is an indispensable foundation of the Christian faith. No deviation on this doctrine should be tolerated within the ranks of orthodox Christianity.” (In Defense of the Resurrection, p. 28)

empty tomb (2)

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