The Resurrection – Ultimate Verification
In a day of growing unbelief, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ remains one of the great cornerstones of Christian joy and certainty. One grieves with the repudiation of the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith during the last half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is found in all realms of thought – science, historical research, philosophy, sociology and, sad but very true, in religious thought.
The literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus has always been central to the preaching of the gospel. In AD 30, when the church was established, the apostle Peter preached that Jesus was “crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. . . . [H]e, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up . . .” (Acts 2:23-24, 31-32).
When the apostle Paul came to Athens, ca. AD 52, Paul’s apology of Christianity before the Athenian philosophers was reasoned of “Jesus, and the resurrection. . . . He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:18, 31).
Christianity was established and defended in the first century by the unshakeable and unmovable historic evidence of the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here you and I stand and do battle for the faith because we have historical events that cannot be contradicted. An empty tomb the critics can deny, but their denial cannot be proved and the resurrection of Jesus cannot be disproved.
In order to prove our affirmation that Jesus rose from the dead, we set forth the following argument:
Major Premise: If it is the case that the Bible sets forth sufficient evidence that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and, therefore, is the Son of God, then one can know that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and is the Son of God.
Minor Premise: The Bible sets forth sufficient evidence that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and, therefore, is the Son of God.
Conclusion: Therefore, one can know that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and is the Son of God.
We set forth the following evidence to warrant the conclusion that one can know that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead and is the Son of God. (1) Jesus lived and died; (2) The burial of Jesus; (3) The empty tomb; (4) The testimony of witnesses; and (5) The relevancy of Jesus’ resurrection to Christian doctrine.
Jesus Lived And Died
The Gospel of John records the terrifying words, “Crucify him, crucify him” (19:6) and then the inspired record records, “they crucified him” (John 19:18). The suffering of Jesus on the cross is beyond our comprehension, but He suffered and died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).
Finally, after suffering six hours, Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is a clear reference to His finishing the work He came to do – our redemption (John 6:38; Heb. 7:27). It is a cry of triumph, of victory, of completion of God’s scheme of redemption (Eph. 1:7; 1 Tim. 2:5-6). He had drained the cup of suffering of its last drop (cf. Matt. 20:22). He had paid the ransom for the redemption of man. He had made atonement for all that will believe and obey. He had undone the work of the evil one (Heb. 2:14). How wonderful to know His redemptive work is finished and man can now have hope if he obeys Him (Heb. 5:8-9)!
The event of the crucifixion verifies: (a) Old Testament Prophecy (Isa. 53:4-5, 7-8); (b) the words of Jesus (John 12:31-34; Luke 24:26); (c) the words of Peter, “For Christ also suffered once for sin . . . being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18); (d) the words of Paul that Jesus “became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philip. 2:8) and “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).
We do not question that Jesus both lived and died, and that Christianity is true. “Some religions, both ancient and modern, require no historical basis for they depend upon ideas rather than events” (Harrison 11).
Jesus’ life and death are documented as to time and place and the two bind Jesus and Christianity historically. Christianity could not have been established and survived without the historical existence of Jesus Christ, the divine founder. We briefly set forth historical evidence that Jesus lived and died.
Jewish Testimony. The Old Testament redounds with explicit Messianic prophecies, and the New Testament applies that fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The study of the Messiah in the Old Testament is most amazing. Consider Meldau’s comments:
One Man only in the history of the world has had explicit details given beforehand of His birth, life, death and resurrection; that these details are in documents given to the public centuries before He appeared, and that no one challenges, or can challenge, that these documents were widely circulated long before His birth; and that anyone and everyone can compare for himself the actual records of His life with these old documents, and find that they match one another to a nicety. The challenge of this pure miracle is that it happened concerning one Man only in the whole of history. (3)
While the biblical records are sufficient to confirm that Jesus lived and died, there exists a small body of non-Christian sources that verifies the biblical records of Jesus living and dying.
In his Works, Josephus, a Jew, gives historical evidence of the life and death of Jesus. In a reference to James, he wrote, “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ” (Antiquities 20:9). Also, “He was the Christ . . . he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold” (18:3).
The Talmud, the oral tradition of the Jews and dated between AD 70 - 200, gives additional historical evidence. It was organized according to subject matter begun by Rabbi Akiba and completed by Rabbi Judah. In a highly significant quotation found in The Babylonian Talmud in Sanhedrin 43a, we read, “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Jesus] was hanged [crucified]” (qtd. in Habermas 98). The Jews were indeed aware of Jesus living and dying!
Roman Testimony. The Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus (ca. AD 55-120), who describes Nero’s persecution of Christians, wrote: “Christus [Christ], from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty [crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate . . .” (15:44).
Another Roman historian, Gaius Suetonius, makes reference to Christ in his statement, “Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ], he expelled them from the city” (25).
Christ and Christianity are inseparable and are tied to historical evidence. Jackson concludes our evidence that Jesus lived and died with the following outstanding thoughts:
Jesus Christ was a verifiably historical character. He was no myth! His name was Jesus and he was born in the latter half of the eighth century of the Roman era. His ancestry was Hebrew; his country Palestine. He died in Jerusalem in the administrations of governor Pontius Pilate and emperor Tiberius Caesar. These are incontrovertible facts; they are as historically certain as history can be. (22)
The Burial Of Jesus
When Jesus spoke His last words from the cross, He cried “with a loud voice . . . ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit’” (Luke 23:46). With these words He was now prepared to die. The words must be understood in the light of His earlier statement, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again . . .” (John 10:18). With a completion of His atoning work on the cross, He, by His own will, released His spirit from His body back to the Father. The tragic yet incredibly meaningful events of Calvary had run their course. The week of conflict was almost over. The body was taken from the cross and buried.
Evidence from the New Testament. Nobody today can know what happened to the body of Jesus, unless there are records that tell us. There are records of what happened to the body of Jesus. They were all written within thirty to sixty years of the crucifixion and burial. These records are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and were written by men who were there when Jesus was buried. Two records, Luke and Acts, are written by Luke, who was an inspired historian.
With this being the only inspired historical evidence as to what happened to the body of Jesus, men have felt free to conjecture something other than what the divine record tells us. Guignebert writes that the body of Jesus was “more likely to have been cast into the pit for the executed than laid in a new tomb” (500). Crossan argues that the body, while buried, was dug up and eaten by wild dogs (127). While there is no historical evidence, other than the Bible, that tells us what happened to His body, we stand by the divine record.
The divine record tells us that from the shadow of the cross came “Joseph of Arimathea . . . and Nicodemus,” who having been given the body of Jesus by Pilate, buried Him in a “new tomb” (John 19:38-39, 41-42; Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53). Joseph was a man of evident wealth and prominence. Nicodemus was the Jewish ruler who came to Jesus by night (John 3). The two disciples, with haste, prepared the body for burial and wrapped it in linen cloth and spices, according to Jewish custom. With the dusk of the Sabbath about to descend upon them, they reverently and tenderly placed His body in Joseph’s new tomb in the garden.
The reality of Christ’s death is attested by His burial. Death, burial, and the tomb were real. Inspiration records, “Christ died for our sins. . . . He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4, emp. added). Dead and buried, but raised the third day in harmony with God’s plan of the redemption of man!
The Empty Tomb
On Sunday morning, following His crucifixion and burial on Friday, the tomb was empty. As with His burial, we have inspired records stating the tomb was empty (Matt. 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). These texts declare that “He is not here, but is risen!” (Luke 24:6), “He is risen! He is not here” (Mark 16:6), and “He is risen from the dead” (Matt. 28:7).
The prophecy of Jesus that He would be raised “the third day” was fulfilled. The phrase “the third day He shall be raised,” with slight variance, occurs in the New Testament ten times by five different writers: Matthew 16:21; 17:23; Mark 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 24:7, 46; Acts 10:40; John 2:19. Paul records the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:4. Consider that the four gospels are separate independent accounts as is Paul’s writing. Each account deals with eyewitnesses filled with unintentional evidence of words, phrases, and accidental details. Each writer wrote by inspired direction (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13) with his own naturalness, forwardness, and simplicity. These biblical texts declare incontrovertibly the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus! These were predictions! Anybody could say it. Only a fool will say he is going to rise again the third day – unless he is going to rise. An empty tomb does not prove the resurrection; however, the resurrection demands the tomb be empty! If the tomb remained occupied, then the resurrection from the dead would be disproved.
The Meaning of the Term “Resurrection.” Before we examine the various theories of the resurrection of Jesus, which date from the resurrection itself in AD 30 to the present, and examine the evidence for the empty tomb or resurrection, we need to define what is meant by the term “resurrection.” The word resurrection is from anastasis (resurrectio Latin) and refers to “a rising from the dead” (Thayer 41). What died? Jesus commended His spirit to the Father, so it was not the spirit that is returned to the dust of the ground (grave). The term resurrection cannot be applied to the spirit in this case, but to the body of Jesus.
There are those who claim to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but they mean only that He still lives. The term resurrection applies to the body and the term “the resurrection of Jesus” applies to His body.
If death affects the body and the body is not raised, death is the conqueror; if Christ can be said to have conquered death then His own body must have been delivered from death’s power. One should be careful to recognize that resurrection means bodily resurrection. . . . Any other use of the term is a misuse of the word. (Smith, Stand 363, emp. added)
This is what Jesus predicted would happen to His body. This is what happened to His body. For me, this is my first deep conviction resulting from the resurrection of Jesus on the third day – that if this came true, then I am bound to believe everything else that Jesus said. In speaking reverently, may I say, that if Jesus had not been God’s Son as He claimed to be – One able to forgive sins, One able to judge the world in years to come, and One who is the only way to God (John 14:6) – then God would have left Him in the tomb to turn to dust.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s stamp of approval. It is the ultimate verification. Paul said that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The word “declared” (horisthentos from horiz) means “to separate; mark off by boundaries; appoint” (Abbott-Smith 323). This suggests the uniqueness of his resurrection, as being “separate” from, “marked off by boundaries,” “appointed,” and “declared,” as being different from all other resurrections recorded in the Bible. The resurrection of Lazarus (John 11), the resurrection of the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:14-15), the resurrection of Jarius’ daughter (Matt. 9:25), and the resurrection of Dorcas (Acts 9:40-41) were raised to die again; whereas, Christ was raised to die no more! We need to declare with fervency and conviction the resurrection of Christ to an ever skeptical world, as did Paul on Mars Hill. Paul preached to the philosophers, “Jesus, and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18), basing his argument upon the divine declaration of a universal call of repentance of all men in preparation of the coming judgment. Paul reasoned from the “assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
The Theories of the Empty Tomb. There are 283 references in the New Testament on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Smith, Sermons 3). It is difficult to believe that anyone would deny the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
First, His body was stolen by His disciples (Matt. 28:11-15). This theory occurs within the same day that the disciples rejoiced that their Lord and Savior had risen from the dead. The source of the theory was the Jews. It was the best the Jews could do. Gilbert West sets forth several interesting observations concerning the women at the tomb, the soldiers, and the resurrection of Jesus:
In this report three things are affirmed, viz. That the disciples stole the body – that they stole it in the night – and that they stole it while the guards were asleep. That Jesus came out of the sepulcher before the rising of the sun. St. Matthew informs us, who says, that the earthquake, etc., happened at the time when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary set out in order to take a view of the sepulcher . . . just as the day began to break. This fact was undoubtedly too notorious for the Chief Priests to venture at falsifying, and was besides favourable to the two other articles: This being admitted; and taking the hint from what the soldiers told them of their being cast into a swoon or trance (becoming like dead men) at the appearance of the angel, and consequently not having seen our Saviour come out of the sepulcher, they forged the remaining parts of this story, that his disciples came and stole him away while they slept. . . . The stone was rolled away from the sepulcher, and the body was gone; this the Chief Priests were to account for, without allowing that Jesus was risen from the dead. The disciples, they said, stole it away. What! While the guards were there? Yes, the guards were asleep. With this answer they knew full well many would be satisfied, without inquiring any farther into the matter: but they could not expect that every body would be so contented; especially as they had reason to apprehend, that although the soldiers, who had taken their money, might be faithful to them, keep their secret, and attest the story they had framed for them, yet the truth might come out by means of those whom they had not bribed. (17-18) [Note: Type style of the original has been edited for easier reading.]
The Jews, the chief priests (Sadducees) and the Pharisees, violated their own strict rules of the Sabbath. They approached Pilate the day after the burial, on the Sabbath, requesting, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise’” (Matt. 27:62-63). We ask, why would the chief priests have any concern about this prediction of Jesus? The Jews requested a guard “until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first” (Matt. 27:64). The text proves Jesus promised to rise from the grave on the third day. Interestingly, Maimondies claims that three days was the limit of time after death for accepting evidence as to identity (Lightfoot 367). Note well the admission of the Jews that the crucifixion was an “error.” The Jews commit a second error by claiming the disciples stole His body!
Pilate granted their request, which is quite different from earlier when he refused their request in reference to changing the wording on the table (titulus) that bore the title, “the King of the Jews” and His supposed crime. The tomb had a large disk-shaped stone that ran in a groove in front of the opening. The guard made up likely of “twelve men” (Lenski 1163) was posted. The grave was sealed by encircling the stone at the opening with “a cord covered with clay or wax on which the official seal has been impressed is affixed to the stone at the grave’s entrance. Surely, no one will dare to break the seal or to move this stone” (Hendriksen 982).
On the third day, Sunday, a great earthquake occurred and an angel of the Lord “rolled back the stone from the door” of the tomb (Matt. 28:3). Jesus rose from the dead as He promised! The tomb was empty as the Jews feared! The guards at the tomb momentarily were “like dead men” (Matt. 28:4). When they awoke “some,” not all of the guards, came and told “the chief priests all the things that had happened” (Matt. 28:11). The chief priests called a meeting with the Sanhedrin and took counsel as how to handle the empty tomb! The cunning minds of the leaders of the Jewish national created a lie and bribed the Roman soldiers into spreading a lie. The Jewish leaders decided three things: (1) They gave the soldiers a large sum of money (Matt. 28:12). Considering they bought Judas for thirty pieces of silver, it would take considerable money to bribe twelve soldiers. But for this lie they were only too happy to pay. (2) They bribed the soldiers to say, “His disciples came at night, and stole him away while we slept” (Matt. 28:13). Thus, we have the first and oldest theory of the empty tomb! The soldiers knew this to be a lie! They had been awake until the earthquake! (3) They promised the soldiers that if Pilate heard of the empty tomb they would persuade Pilate otherwise in their behalf (Matt. 28:12-14). The real risk the soldiers had was with Pilate finding that they were asleep at the post, a crime punishable by death (cf. Acts 12:19).
The soldiers joining the Jews in the duplicity, took the money. This resulted in this saying“commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (Matt. 28:15). Not wanting truth, the Jews were satisfied with falsehood. Matthew penned his Gospel ca. AD 65, some 35 years later, and the “lie” was still being told among the Jews. With the denial of the empty tomb, the Jewish leaders kept those of their own number from accepting the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ as their Messiah!
President Thomas Jefferson set out to rewrite the Bible after he no longer was the President of the United States. Jefferson was impressed with the life and morals of Jesus, but he was troubled with the miraculous events of the New Testament. So with scissors and a New Testament, Jefferson attempted to separate the “real” message of Jesus from all the “unnecessary.” He omitted every supernatural event – including the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He did the work in 1804. The closing words of Jefferson’s new version of the Bible reads: “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed” (83). [During the Fifty-Seventh Congress, the United States government published and distributed 3,000 copies for use in the Senate and 6,000 copies for use in the House of Representatives (19).]
For Jefferson, Jesus’ life story ended with His death. This was not a new thought religiously. More than 1700 years before Jefferson, a Roman governor named Festus summarized the trial of the apostle Paul to King Agrippa, and “had some questions against him about their own religion and about one Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (Acts 25:19). Festus asserted that Jesus had died and that Paul, and the early Christians, claimed Jesus to be alive; i.e. resurrected from the dead! Later when addressing Agrippa, Paul asked, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8). Paul, while acknowledging that many stumbled at the matter of the resurrection from the dead, affirms that Jesus was raised! Dare we do anything less?
In replying to the first and oldest theory concerning the empty tomb, we mention these thoughts:
- The Roman soldiers admitted the tomb was empty. They admitted the truth of the matter!
- The Jewish rulers accepted the testimony of the soldiers and concocted a lie with bribery being their defense.
- The Roman soldiers were shrewd in not reporting what had happened on their watch to their leader, Pilate, but reported this information to the chief priests.
- The Roman soldiers, the chief priests, and the Sanhedrin were anxious to cover the miracle of the resurrection and the empty tomb with the lie that the disciples stole His body while they slept. It would be an extreme situation for all the guards to have fallen asleep on duty. Remember there were at least twelve guards involved. Further, it is highly unlikely that ALL twelve guards fell asleep at the same time by natural cause from fatigue, rather than a supernatural cause which explains their sleep!
- Their falling asleep was punishable by death. The fact that the members of the Roman guard were not tried for violating Roman law suggests that their superiors knew their testimony was false. Whereas, in Acts 12:19 when Peter was found not in jail, Herod “commanded that they [soldiers] should be put to death.”
- The story of the Roman soldiers makes two compelling arguments: (1) It proves the resurrection of Jesus and (2) It verifies the empty tomb. If Jesus’ body was stolen, it had to have been stolen by either His enemies or His friends. His enemies would refuse to steal the body, because they would have defeated their own purpose. They had no motive and absolutely nothing to gain by stealing it. His disciples left the scene and were convinced He was dead. They could not have restored His body and such would have been criminal behavior. They would have been exposed and punished.
- Whoever stole the body would have also taken the grave clothes, but they were left “folded” in the empty tomb (John 20:7).
- Jesus’ body was “taken away” or “out of” the tomb in the sense that God “raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12; cf. Eph. 1:20). This gave Jesus victory over death and hades (Rev. 1:18), and gave to the obedient the promise of an identical resurrection from dead as Christ’s (1 Cor. 15:23; Philip. 3:20-21).
Second, the swoon or apparent death theory. Those who hold to this popular alternative theory admit without exception that Jesus was crucified, but argue that Jesus really did not die, but fainted. His body was removed from the cross and later revived in the coolness of the “new tomb.”
- To reason that Jesus never died, but fainted or fell into a coma creates a number of major objections.
- The theory fails to consider that He had no sleep the night before His crucifixion (Mark 14:32-41). Is it possible that this theory was developed as a takeoff from the Roman soldiers’ claim of having “been asleep?”
- The theory fails to consider that in every New Testament book the death of Jesus is mentioned either directly or indirectly; i.e. all twenty-seven books!
- The theory fails to consider that the Roman soldiers who crucified Him also pronounced Him dead (John 19:33). They made certain of His death by piercing His side (John 19:34) and knowing He was dead, they omitted breaking His legs (John 19:32-33).
- The theory fails to consider the grave clothes in which His body was wrapped tightly. It would have been impossible for Him to have gotten out of the grave clothes in a weakened condition as the theorists claim. Why were the grave clothes left behind?
- The theory fails to consider that if Jesus had not died, but was revived in the tomb as they claim, He could not have removed the stone in His weakened condition, much less slipped pass the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb’s entrance.
- The theory fails to consider the horrendous suffering He endured when He was scourged. The Jewish law limited scourging to 40 lashes, but the Pharisees limited the lashes to 39 just in case they miscounted. The Romans, who did the scourging, had no such limitations. The blows from the whip, known as the flagrum, would eventually, after repeated blows, cut deeply causing contusions and cutting into the subcutaneous tissues. McDowell quotes from Eusebius saying, “The suffer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were often exposed” (44). This was all done in preparation for the crucifixion. Dr. William Stroud, in his excellent treatise on the physical cause of the death of Jesus, states:
That the immediate cause of the death of our blessed Savior was – speaking medically – laceration or rupture of the heart, is a doctrine in regard to which there can be no absolute certainty; but, assuredly, in favor of it there is a very high amount of circumstantial probability. . . . (1) His death was not the mere result of crucifixion; for the period was too short; a person in the prime of life, as Christ was, not dying from this mode of mortal punishment in six hours, as He did, but usually surviving till the second or third day, or even longer. (2) The attendant phenomena, at the time of the actual death, were different from those of crucifixion. The crucified died, as is well known, under a lingering process of gradual exhaustion, weakness, and faintness. On the contrary, Christ died with a loud voice, and spoke once and again – all apparently within a few minutes of His dissolution. No known injury, lesion, or disease of the brain, lungs, or other vital organs could, I believe, account for such a sudden termination of His sufferings in death, except (a) arrestment of the action of the heart by fatal fainting or syncope; or (b) rupture of the walls of the heart, or larger blood-vessels issuing from it. (7-8)
Dr. William Edwards wrote a tremendous article titled, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” in The Journal of the American Medical Association and states:
Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge. (1463)
Third, the wrong tomb theory. The theory claims that because it was dark when the women came to the tomb of Jesus (Matt. 28:1; John 20:1) they went to the wrong tomb. Lake writes, “It is seriously a matter for doubt whether the women were really in a position to be quite certain that the tomb which they visited was that in which they had seen Joseph of Arimathea bury the Lord’s body” (250). What fanciful reasoning by some, all in order both to deny and to circumvent the resurrection of Jesus and an empty tomb.
- The theory fails to consider that the women had already been to Jesus’ tomb and knew where His tomb was before their Sunday visit (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55).
- The theory fails to consider that if the women went to the wrong tomb, then why did not the Jews, who opposed Jesus, go to the right tomb and produce His body as evidence He was not raised?
- The theory fails to consider that the Roman guards knew where Jesus’ tomb was when they went to guard it. The Roman guards reported to the Jews, rather than to Pilate, that the tomb they were guarding was empty. The Jews accepted the Roman soldiers’ testimony (Matt. 28:11-15).
- The theory fails to consider that Peter and John came to the right tomb, it was the identical tomb to which the women came, and which the Roman guards were guarding, and it was empty (John 20:2-8)! They also found the grave clothes still in the tomb, not in disarray, but folded neatly.
Fourth, the vision or hallucination theory. All critics of the bodily resurrection of Jesus admit that it is the case that Jesus appeared alive following His burial. This theory argues that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are only “supposed appearances,” rather than actual appearances. Renan argues that it was the “strong imagination” of the disciples that “played an important part in this circumstance” (375). Strauss, who considers the miraculous as “myths” (201-14) handles the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus as follows:
They thought they perceived him, and perceived him in a visible form. . . . The Evangelical testimony in favour of the resurrection of Jesus endeavours to bring forward the most convincing of all proofs; in doing so it breaks to pieces and shows itself to be the mere result of a wish to give support to a dogmatical conception, which so soon as the wish ceases to exist, collapses for want of any support at all. (400, 407-08)
The theory claims the bodily resurrection of Jesus is built totally upon the disciple’s “wishes,” “imagination,” and “emotional let down” following Jesus crucifixion. The “supposed visions” or “supposed appearances,” while imagined by the disciples, is argued as giving impetus to the establishment and growth of the church of our Lord. This is a philosophical way to admit the force of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but at the same time explaining the reality away via natural means. The message of the bodily resurrection of Jesus was an empowering impetus in the growth of New Testament Christianity!
The length and extreme nature of the argumentation that men use in order to escape the reality of the resurrection of Jesus is fanciful. This is a clear denial of the supernatural in the life of Jesus.
- The theory fails to consider that an “imaginary” resurrection and appearance of Jesus would not have satisfied the apostles and disciples. The disciples of Jesus did not function from “imagination,” “visions,” or “hallucination.” Hope had been crushed as evidenced in the words of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:21).
- The theory fails to consider that there are at least 12 recorded appearances of Jesus listed in Scripture (see below). These occurred in many places and in many different settings. It is impossible to explain His appearances away as mere “visions” or “hallucinations,” or “wishes” of His disciples and/or the early church in the latter part of the first century!
- The theory fails to consider that it is extremely unusual that so many saw the risen Jesus. On one occasion over 500 witnessed Him alive simultaneously (1 Cor. 15:6). Generally speaking, “visions” or “hallucinations” are seen by one person at a time rather than a large group. It is highly improbable that 500 disciples would have seen Him at one time if His appearances were not real.
- The theory fails to consider Luke 24:39 where Jesus instructed Thomas to touch His flesh and bones. Such an appearance cannot be “visionary.”
- The theory fails, as all theories that reject the bodily resurrection of Jesus, in that all the enemies of Jesus needed to do was produce the body of Jesus and thereby silence His disciples! This was an apparent opportunity His enemies never took advantage of, because it was impossible to do so. They could not produce a body from His tomb, because He had risen bodily from the tomb.
- The theory fails to consider that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus ceased after His ascension. The only post-resurrection appearance following the ascension was to Paul (Acts 9; 22; 26) in order to qualify Him as an apostle “born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). Myths normally increase numerically and with complexity over time.
- The theory fails to consider, that “it would still involve a miracle, and surely nothing is gained by substituting one miracle for another. It would have been a piece of deception on Christ’s part, for then He appeared to His disciples in a spiritual vision, and yet conveyed to their minds the impression that He appeared bodily” (Keyser 110).
- The theory fails to consider that if the “vision” or “hallucination” theory is true, then what happened to the body of Jesus? Lee Strobel, an award winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune, writes: In the face of the facts, they have been impotent to put Jesus’ body back into the tomb. They flounder, they struggle, they snatch at straws, they contradict themselves, they pursue desperate and extraordinary theories to try to account for the evidence. Yet each time, in the end, the tomb remains vacant. (223)
The Testimony Of The Witnesses
When Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost, he stated, “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). The text affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus and an empty tomb; however, the text also serves as a challenge to and opportunity for the enemies of Jesus. If they had only produced His body, they would once-for-all cut the Gordian knot of any and all future proclamations of the resurrection of Jesus by His disciples.
We ask seriously: Does there exist any historical source, friendly or hostile, claiming that the tomb of Jesus was occupied after the third day; i.e. that the tomb was not empty, that a body remained inside? No authority makes this claim until several centuries later. All sources, friendly and hostile, agree that the tomb of Jesus was empty!
The testimony of the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus is not about vague appearances, but “This testimony must be treated in view of the actual circumstances and relations between persons in the Apostolic community” (Orr 145). The words of Peter confirm Orr’s comments, “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” (Acts 10:40-41).
While there are not literal eyewitnesses to the actual resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, there are several post-resurrection accounts of His appearance to many witnesses that testify to a risen Jesus and an empty tomb. H. P. Liddon states the appearances of Jesus to His disciples caused them to go forth after His ascension “to do and to teach, no doubt, a great deal else, but especially, they went forth as ‘witnesses of His Resurrection’” (158).
Jesus was seen five times by different individuals the day He arose from the dead:
1. Mary Magdalene saw Him in the garden (John 20:10-18).
2. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome were met by Him as they went on their way to tell the apostles that He was risen from the dead. They were allowed to hold Him and worship Him (Matt. 28:9).
3. Later in the day, He appeared to Peter in Galilee (Mark 16:7).
4. In the afternoon of that memorable Sunday, Jesus appears to Cleopas and another disciple on Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-22).
5. In the first evening following His resurrection, Jesus appears to ten apostles. Thomas was absent (John 20:19-23) and Judas was dead (Matt. 27:3-5).
Following these five appearances, there are six appearances of Jesus before His ascension:
1. The Sunday following His resurrection, Jesus appears to all of the apostles. Thomas was present and saw the evidence he needed in order to believe in the resurrected Jesus (John 20:26-30).
2. On another occasion, Jesus appeared to seven apostles on the shore of Tiberias – Peter, Thomas, Bartholomew, James the Greater, John and two others (John 21:1-14).
3. He appeared to the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5).
4. He appeared to His brother, James (1 Cor. 15:7).
5. He “was seen of above five hundred brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6). “Once” (ephapas) meaning “at once, at one time” (Rogers 385). The word “seen” (ophthe) is translated “appeared” in the American Standard Version. Paul states “of whom the great part” of the 500 were yet alive, indicating some had already died. Milligan makes the following succinct observation:
What the manifestation spoken of in verse 8 was to St. Paul, it was to all the others mentioned in the 6th and 7th verses, and vice versa. The constant use of the verb [ophthe] in the New Testament connects it with persons or things either seen or supposed to be seen in their reality, and not thought of as visionary appearances. (265)
6. The apostles saw Jesus at the Mount of Olives just prior to His ascension where they worshipped Him (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-9).
The only post-ascension appearance of the resurrected Jesus was to Paul. Paul writes, “And last of all he was seen of me also” (1 Cor. 15:8). The phrase “and last of all” (eschatos de panton) makes this the last and final appearance of Jesus to any individual (cf. Arndt and Gingrich 314).
Paul’s listing of the witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 is extremely important. With Paul saying many of the witnesses to whom he appealed were yet alive, Paul throws down the gauntlet giving any and all, who had any doubt about the validity of the resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb, an opportunity to speak up and present evidence otherwise! In Paul’s mind, these witnesses were solid proof, along with himself, of the central event of the Christian faith – the bodily resurrection of Jesus!
The Relevancy Of Jesus’ Resurrection To Christian Doctrine
Without developing in detail the following, we set forth from the Scriptures the relevancy of Jesus’ bodily resurrection to Christian doctrine.
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus fulfills Scripture and conforms to God’s eternal plan (Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4).
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus serves as the archetype or first-fruits of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23). The resurrection of Jesus enables the physical resurrection of mankind (Acts 24:15; 17:30-32).
- Jesus staked His entire work upon His bodily resurrection. When He was asked for a sign, He repeatedly appealed to His resurrection as His “single and sufficient credential (John ii.19; Matt. Xii.40)” (Warfield 195). (cf Matt. 16:13-27; Mark 8:31-39; Luke 9:18-26).
- The historicity and reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the basis of the center of the faith and preaching of the early church (Acts 1:22, 31-32; 2:24, 30; 3:15, 22, 26; 4:2, 10, 33; 5:3-31; 7:37; 10:40-41; 13:23, 30, 33-34, 37; 17:18, 30-32; 23:6; 24:15, 21; 26:8).
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus gave the early Christians living hope and a steadfast faith (1 Peter 1:3, 21; 3:21).
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus gives both substance and power to the Gospel without which our preaching is vain, our faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins (1 Cor. 15:14-17; Rom. 1:4; 6:3-4; Col. 2:12).
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus gives the Christian the earnest and pledge of his own resurrection. At the same time, the bodily resurrection of Jesus gives the Christian comfort as he lovingly lays the bodies of those faithful who are dear to him in the tomb. Consequently, he does not sorrow, “as others who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus makes future life (immortality) certain (2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; John 5:28-29; Matt. 25:46; 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 15).
Examine carefully the evidence. We ask the reader to consider carefully: Did Jesus rise from the Dead? YES! Is there sufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion that the cause of the empty tomb is the bodily resurrection of Jesus? YES! Does the bodily resurrection of Jesus affirm that Jesus is the Son of God? YES! (1 Cor. 15; Rom. 1:4). William Sherlock writes:
Presumptions are of no weight against positive evidence; and every account of the resurrection assures us, that the body of Christ was seen, felt, and handled by many persons; who were called upon by Christ so to do, that they might be assured that he had flesh and bones, and was not a mere spectre, as they, in their first surprise, imagined him to be. . . . And that whoever admits that God gave man life at first, cannot possibly doubt of his power to restore it when lost. (65, 98-99. Author’s Note: Type style of original has been edited for easier reading.)
The resurrection “distinguishes Christianity from every other religion and from every system of philosophy . . . the way in which [it] is bound up with the Person of its Founder” (Edgar 21). “HE IS RISEN” (Matt. 28:6, emp. added). Truly, there is a sense in which the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate verification of God – life’s greatest acclamation. Peter wrote, “. . .[W]ho through Him [Jesus] believe in God, who raised Him from the dead . . . so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:21).
-W. Terry Varner
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