“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Years ago I was going to a conference with a pastor who would have called himself a Conservative Evangelical Christian, but he was moving to embrace a radical understanding of the resurrection saying that Jesus did not return from the dead in His human body. Christians should not believe this mortal body will rise again from the dead.
I could not believe what I was hearing, and so I asked the following. “If I were to die and be buried over there on the corner lot, and you were to hold my funeral, you could not say to those present that you commit this body to, the grave until the resurrection from the dead”? He said no, he would not say anything like that. I said, “My friend, I don’t want you doing my funeral!”
Well did Matthew Henry (d. 1714) write, “All who believe in Christ have hope in Him; all who believe in Him as Redeemer hope for redemption and salvation by Him; but if there be no resurrection, their hope in Him must be limited to this life.” The good news of the gospel is that hope in Christ lies beyond this life. Because Christ lives all who put their faith and trust in Him shall live as well.
Because the resurrection of Christ is essential to the Christian life, consider several facts which should sustain the heart that Jesus really is the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world, and the Hope of eternal life.
First, Jesus was not afraid to die. In fact, Christ predicted His own death. Matthew 17:22-23 And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: 23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
Christ was not afraid to die, because like Abraham, who believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19), so Jesus believed God would raise Him from the dead. In Matthew 20:19 Jesus spoke of how the Son of man was to be delivered to the Gentiles to be mocked, and to be scourged, and to be crucified. “And the third day he shall rise again” said Christ. Jesus was not afraid to die.
Second, Jesus was willing to die. It is true that in the Garden of Agony, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ prayed with blood dripping from his brow, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” but then He added, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). No man took the life of Christ from Him. “I lay it down of myself,” said Jesus. “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18). When the appointed time came, Jesus set His face like flint toward Jerusalem. He was willing to die.
Third, Jesus did die. It is a matter of history, despite several liberal theories to the contrary. The death of deaths, in the death of Christ, is one of the most well established facts of history. Dr. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853), a principal founder of Harvard’s law school became a Christian trying to refute Jesus Christ as the Eternal Word, and the resurrection.
C. S. Lewis was the professor of medieval and renaissance literature at Oxford for many years. He was a giant in his field. Other professors bowed before his intellectual capabilities. When he tried to refute the reliability of the New Testament he could not do it. He said, “I was the most reluctant convert, but I was brought to Jesus Christ because of my mind.”
What Mr. Lewis was saying, is that Christians are invited to believe in Christ, not because of blind faith, but based on an intelligent evaluation of the historical fact, Jesus rose again from the dead.
Lord Caldercote (Thomas Inskip, 1876-1947) was the Lord Chief Justice of England. He was a man that held the highest office anyone could hold in the legal system of England. He said, “…as often as I have tried to examine the evidence for Christianity, I have come to believe it as a fact beyond dispute.”
Thomas Arnold (June 13, 1795 – June 12, 1842) was the headmaster of Rugby University in England. He was a historian, and the author of three volumes, the History of Rome. He said, “I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
What evidence cries the skeptic? What evidence asks the Muslim scholars? All the eyewitness left Christ and fled. The passage most often cited for this assertion is Mark 14:50 “And they all forsook him, and fled.”
It is true that Mark 14:50 says “they all forsook him, and fled.” However, Mark 14: 54 records that while Jesus was being led away to the high priest, “Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire.” Peter was an eyewitness to Christ’s sufferings, and then to His glory.
So was John. “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest” (John 18:15).
Later John stood beneath the cross of Calvary, and to Him Jesus spoke. John 19:26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! John was an eyewitness to the death and burial of Christ.
Perhaps the greatest eye witness testimony is found in 1 Corinthians 15, which was written by the apostle Paul in AD 55-56. Twenty years had now passed since his conversion. Paul looks back across time to write of how he had met in Jerusalem with James the brother of Jesus. It was there the tradition was given to him that Christ was seen by over 500 eye witnesses. Most of the witnesses were still alive, and could be interviewed. “If you do not believe that I have seen the resurrected Christ,” says Paul, then, “ask them!”
By issuing this invitation, Paul was opening himself, and the Christian faith to any challenge. There were many religious leaders that were hostile to the gospel, and antagonistic to Christ and His cause. Had Paul, or others, departed from the truth they would have been challenged, and rightly so. But the church was not questioned. For two hundred years the church was not challenged in its assertion that Jesus was risen from the dead.
One man, named Polycarp (AD 69-155), was a disciple of the apostle John. He wrote, “So firm is the ground upon which these gospels rest, that not even the heretics themselves would undermine it.”
It would take nineteen hundred years for the critics of Christendom to find renewed strength, and vigor, to cast doubt upon the resurrection of Christ. But cast doubt they have now done.
Several theories have been proposed to explain away the resurrection of Christ. Each of the speculations stretches credulity, and common sense. Josh McDowell lists several of the theories.
There is the theory of the wrong tomb. This theory was propounded by Kirsopp Lake, a noted English biblical scholar who lived 1872-1946. The theory assumes that the women who reported that the body was missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to check up on the women’s statement must have also gone to the wrong tomb.
We may be certain, however, that Jewish authorities, who asked for a Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus’ body from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there! If the resurrection-claim was merely because of a geographical mistake, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor resurrection.
There is the theory of mass hallucination. The argument is that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection were either illusions, or hallucinations. This theory is unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances of hallucinations. For example, when people hallucinate, they do not all have the same image and the same conversation.
According to the historical record, Jesus appeared to a group of women. Then He appeared to Peter. In the evening of the resurrection day He appeared to all the apostles except Thomas. A week later He appeared again to the apostles, Thomas being present. Then He appeared in Galilee to about 500 brethren (Matt. 28; 1 Cor. 15:6). Then He appeared to the seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee (John 21). Then He appeared in Jerusalem, and ascended from the Mount of Olives. Some time in the course of the appearances there was one to James, His own brother (1 Cor. 15:7). Later on He appeared to Paul. It is impossible that all the people involved had the same hallucination at the same time.
There is the theory that Jesus swooned. This theory, popularized by Karl Venturini in the early 19th century, is widely embraced by cults, such as Christian Science, and the Muslim community. The swoon theory contends that Jesus did not die; He merely fainted from exhaustion, and loss of blood. Everyone thought Him dead, but later He resuscitated, and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection.
Skeptic David Friedrich Strauss, certainly no believer in the resurrection, gives the deathblow to any thought that Jesus revived from a swoon: “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such resuscitation could… [not] have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”
There is the theory of the body being stolen. It is argued that while the Roman guards slept, the body of Christ was stolen by the disciples. Of all the theories, this one would be the most comical, if it were not taken seriously. The depression, and cowardice of the disciples provide a hard-hitting argument against their suddenly becoming so brave, and daring as to face a detachment of soldiers at the tomb, and steal the body. They were in no emotional mood to attempt anything like that.
The theory that the Jewish, or Roman authorities moved Christ’s body is also no more reasonable an explanation for the empty tomb than theft by the disciples. If the authorities had the body in their possession, or knew where it was, why, when the disciples were preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem, did not they explain, “Wait! We moved the body! Jesus did not rise from the grave”?
If such a rebuttal failed, why did not the Jewish, or Roman authorities, explain exactly where Jesus’ body lay?
If this failed, why did not they recover the corpse, put it on a cart, and wheel it through the center of Jerusalem? Such an action would have destroyed Christianity—not in the cradle, but in the womb!
No, the conclusion must be that Jesus rose again from the dead. The changed lives of the disciples supports this position. Just four weeks later, and a twenty minute walk from Golgotha to the Temple area, the disciples were proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. They were not lying. People do not give their lives for a lie. People do not suffer needlessly for a lie. Yet the disciples were willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and suffer they did.
James, the half-brother of Jesus according to the flesh, was stoned, and clubbed to death.
Simon Peter was crucified upside down.
Andrew was crucified.
Matthew was killed by the sword.
John died of natural causes in exile.
James, son of Alphaeus, was crucified.
Phillip was crucified.
Simon was crucified.
Thaddeus was killed by arrows.
Thomas was killed by a spear thrust.
Bartholomew was crucified.
James, the son of Zebedee, was killed by the sword.
Paul, the apostle, “one born out of due time”, was beheaded during the reign of Nero.
The men were killed for saying, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). They were mocked, beaten, and tortured, yet stayed true. These men died saying their Friend and Teacher came back from the dead. Any rational person must resolve the historical difficulty of “Why?”
What changed the disciples from spineless men, into a formidable force of compassionate, and holy boldness to the point they were ready to suffer, and die, for the message of the cross? What happened? Why was the message they told so convincing?
There is only one compelling answer that satisfies both the mind, and the heart, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).