THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
The very center of New Testament Christianity is the fact of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the gospel - the glad tidings - the good news of the Bible. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, His claims about Himself are not true. If He was raised from the dead, He is who He said He is, and He deserves our allegiance and obedience.
If Jesus had not been resurrected from the dead, His death would have been in vain. In order for Jesus' death to accomplish what it was designed to accomplish, He had to conquer death - He had to be resurrected from the dead.
Many people (even those who claim to believe in the resurrection) have never examined the evidence available to prove that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Some have considered the evidence and have rejected it. In the October 1991 issue of First Century Christian, Bob Winton had an article entitled "Did Jesus Fake His Death?" In this article brother Winton quoted from an AP news article dealing with a "retired physician" and his "theologian wife." In this article the physician and his wife suggested that Jesus plotted with His followers to "fake His death in a premeditated bid to survive crucifixion." The writers of the article believe that Jesus never died on the cross, that the soldiers were mistaken in thinking that He was dead, and that He actually survived the crucifixion. When He was taken down from the cross, He showed signs of life and was not placed in the tomb, but "taken away and tended." I later saw this same woman "theologian" on the Discovery channel speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls and saying they confirmed her theory. Well, people see what they want to see. If the Dead Sea scrolls confirm her theory they are wrong because her theory is false. It is amazing that a so-called "theologian" will accept what she believes uninspired writings say rather than what the inspired word of God says, but that's the problem with some so-called theologians.
There have always been doubters who have rejected the resurrection of Jesus. Such a man was Thomas, one of the apostles. Although he had been a faithful disciple of Jesus, had seen His miracles, and heard Him teach that He would rise from the dead, when the other apostles told him they had seen the Lord after His death, he said, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (John 20:25). Eight days later Jesus again appeared to the apostles, and this time Thomas was present. Knowing that Thomas doubted the report of His resurrection, Jesus said to Him:
The blessing Jesus refers to is for us today - "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." From that moment on Thomas believed that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.
Was Thomas' belief legitimate? Was Jesus resurrected from the dead? This is what our study deals with.
In it's nature, the question before us is a question of fact. The resurrection of Jesus is either fact or fiction. It is either something that actually occurred, or it did not.
It is not a question of science, by which I mean it cannot be repeated in scientific experiments and thus proven. Neither is it a matter of philosophy concerning which men may theorize or reason as they do about the origin or nature of things. Neither can we know that Jesus rose from the dead as Thomas and the other apostles and certain of the women knew it. They saw Jesus with their eyes, touched him and talked with Him after His resurrection. We are not able to do that.
To us, therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is a matter of faith produced by the testimony given in support of the fact. In fact, this is one of the reasons the gospels were written as John teaches:
This is in harmony with the fact stated by Paul in Romans 10:17, "so then faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of God." It is by reading the evidence given in the New Testament, that we come to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and that He is truly the Son of God. Let me emphasize that our belief is not a "blind faith," (as some would suggest today), but is based on written evidence by eye witnesses.
To believe testimony concerning any important event, we should consider several things:
In the case before us, no one claimed to see Jesus rise from the dead. They saw Him die. They saw Him placed into the tomb. They saw Him alive after His resurrection. But no one saw Jesus actually come back to life with their own eyes.
PROOF THAT JESUS DIED
Is the claim that Jesus could not have been resurrected because He did not die true? The Bible makes clear that many witnessed the fact that Jesus was dead when He was taken from the cross.
The first testimony that we have that Jesus died is that of the centurion and those that were with him. When they saw what was happening they said, "truly this was the Son of God." By using the past tense was, these people showed that they understood that Jesus was dead. These were not Jesus' disciples - they were the ones who crucified Him. Yet, they testified to the fact that He had died.
Pilate who commanded the body to be given to Joseph must have known that Jesus was dead, or he would have never given permission for the body to be given to Joseph.
Joseph of Arimathaea surely knew that Jesus was dead because he had taken the body and placed it in the tomb himself, wrapping it in a clean linen cloth. If Jesus had been alive, surely Joseph would have recognized it.
Then there were the women who were there throughout the time that Jesus hung on the cross. They knew Jesus was dead because they had witnessed it with their own eyes. And now, they sat outside the tomb mourning Jesus' death.
Then we have the evidence of the enemies of Christ, the chief priests and Pharisees, who came to Pilate the next day and said:
Notice how these enemies of Jesus said, "while he was yet alive." All of these people knew that Jesus was dead. There was no doubt in their minds. This is indisputable evidence not only from those who loved Jesus, but from those who hated Him and crucified Him that He was dead. It is evidence that would stand up in any court of our land today.
THE EYE-WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTED LORD
Now to the question before us - was Jesus resurrected from the dead? We have seen that both Jesus' followers as well as His enemies testified to the fact that He died. But, was He resurrected from the dead?
Our first witness is Mary Magdalene. She was the first to have seen Jesus after His resurrection. She had known Him for some time; she had seen Him crucified; she had seen Him die; she had seen Him placed in the tomb. She came to the place where He had been buried early in the morning on the third day after His burial.
Before this event, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome had brought spices to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. When they got there the stone had been rolled from the door. When they looked in the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment, and they were afraid.
Mary had seen the empty tomb. She had heard what the angel had said. She now sees Jesus who had been raised from the dead, and gives her testimony of that to the disciples. Had she been the only witness to the resurrection of our Lord, some might find room to doubt her testimony. The disciples did not believe her when she told them what happened. But she was not the only witness:
Here we now have the testimony of three witnesses. This would be enough evidence in any court of our land today that Jesus was alive - but that's still not all the evidence that we have. Within forty days on ten different occasions Jesus was seen by people varying in number from one to more than five hundred at once:
Some of the apostles saw and spoke with Jesus at least five times. They saw Him on a road, in houses, by the seaside, on a mountain, and at day and night. Several days after His resurrection He gave the apostles the Great commission, authorizing them to tell the account of His life, death, burial and resurrection to all the world (Mark 16:15-16). With this many witnesses, it is impossible to deny the resurrection of Christ and count oneself as truly honest.
THE CONDUCT OF THE APOSTLES
The conduct of the apostles before and after the resurrection affords one of the strongest evidences of His resurrection. Months before His death when Jesus told the apostles what would take place Peter questioned it. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" (Matthew 16:22). When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, Peter sought to defend Him from the mob. When Jesus told Peter to put up his sword and submitted to the mob, Peter and the other apostles forsook Him. Later, while Jesus was going to the trial before the high priest, Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times. This shows Peter's attitude at the time, and so it was with all the other apostles. All we can know of their conduct from a week before Jesus' crucifixion until Pentecost, a period of about two months, indicates that although they were His devoted followers, they were uncertain and fearful concerning the future. Their words and actions were such as we would expect of men in their position. Not one of them said or did anything that would suggest an effort on their part to persuade others to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. In fact, it was not until Pentecost day, that they began to preach that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.
Beginning at Pentecost, their attitude toward Jesus and His work changed completely. The Holy Spirit came upon them not only confirming Jesus' promise in Luke 24:49 that He would send the Holy Spirit, but also gave them an understanding of His life and teachings which they could never have had before.
The apostles lesson that day was the first in which the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the redemption of all was publicly proclaimed:
It is inconceivable that the apostles could or would have preached such a sermon had they not known the facts of the case and been endued with power from on high. The very fact that the apostles preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ shows it's truthfulness. It was for preaching these things that all the apostles except John died as martyrs. People don't give their lives for things they don't believe in. They truly believed that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead and they were willing to die in order to preach this fact.
THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS
Finally, we have the testimony of Jesus Himself. Many religious leaders today will tell you that Jesus' death was a mistake. They will tell you that God had originally intended for Jesus to come to this earth to set up an earthly kingdom, but the Jews rejected Christ thus defeating the original plan of Jesus to establish His kingdom and God had to change His plans.
However, when we read what Jesus Himself said about why He was here, we come to understand that He came for the specific purpose of dying on the cross. He knew He was going to die. He knew why He was going to die. He knew how He was going to die. He knew when He was going to die. He knew He was going to be resurrected from the dead. Notice the following passages:
Jesus gave His life freely and voluntarily. He came to carry out God's plan for Him to die for the sins of the world. Nothing He did was accidental. He never made a mistake. It was God's plan that He die on the cross.
It was God's plan that Jesus be crucified. God knew it was going to happen because it was in harmony with His will. The Jews did not frustrate the plan of God, they did exactly what God's plan called for. Jesus was to die and be resurrected and Jesus Himself is witness to that fact.
This then is some of the evidence concerning the resurrection of Christ. Do you believe this evidence? Do you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? If you do, then you must also believe that He is who He said He is -- the Son of God. If you believe He is the Son of God, you must also believe His word that teaches us about sin and our need for salvation. If you truly believe, you must realize the need to obey the Lord who died and shed His blood for you.