Throughout the New Testament, the resurrection is viewed as the vindication of the message and mission of Jesus. If God raised Jesus from the dead, then his claims are true and the salvation he announced has been achieved. [Yet] if the resurrection did not take place, Christianity is a false religion and should be abandoned.
For reflection: read the apostle Paul’s bold assertions about the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:14-19.
– For the apostles, the death and resurrection of Jesus was the turning point in human history, the transition from the age of promise to the age of fulfillment.
The Historical Resurrection
Rationalistic Explanations for the Resurrection:
The Swoon Theory – the view that Jesus never really died on the cross.
VIEW: Jesus just “swooned” or fainted, and the Roman soldiers assumed he was dead. Once in the tomb, Jesus awoke from his coma, escaped from the tomb, and appeared to his disciples.
RESPONSE: most critical scholars have rejected this view.
The Romans were experts at crucifixion. The goal was death.
The record that they left Jesus’ legs unbroken is further evidence that he was dead when they took him off the cross.
Also, even if Jesus were still alive when they put him in the tomb, what are the chances that he would be able to roll back the large stone that covered the tomb (uphill from the inside), overpower the Roman guards, and escape?
Further, it is laughable that a barely alive Jesus could have convinced his disciples that he had risen victoriously from the dead. He would have received their pity, but not their worship as Lord & Savior. “We must remember that these same disciples were willing to die for the truth that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The Wrong Tomb Theory – the view that on Easter morning, the women got confused concerning where Jesus was buried and came across the wrong tomb.
View: the women stumbled upon an empty tomb and immediately started proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead.
RESPONSE: this view is just stupid.
John 19:41 notes that Jesus’ tomb was in a private garden – given to him by a rich man (Joseph of Arimathea).
The gospel accounts also note that the women took special note where the tomb was so they could return to anoint his body with spices (Matt.27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55).
If you’re loved one died, do you think you would forget where his tomb was? This would also entail that the disciples went to the wrong tomb as well. Did they make the same mistake?
Further, if this were the case, it would have been easy for the Roman authorities to set everyone straight by taking them to the right tomb – especially when they are declaring Jesus as Lord. [Joseph of Arimathea should have been able to find his tomb as well.]
The Theft Theory – the oldest view (dating to the 1st century), which holds that Jesus disciples stole his body.
VIEW: most critical scholars also reject this view.
Here’s Why: Matthew 28:11-15 reports that this story was widely circulated in his day. It says that the guards fell asleep, and the disciples stealthily rolled away the stone and took Jesus’ body without them noticing. This is a difficult scenario.
Evidence suggests that the disciples were emotionally devastated and discouraged following the crucifixion. They definitely didn’t expect a resurrection. Nor is there evidence that they plotted to fake one.
Their beloved leader was killed and they were most likely afraid that they would be killed too if they didn’t lie low and disassociate themselves. To seek to steal the body would have been a death sentence upon them (like Jesus’).
This view would also suggest that the disciples who developed the biggest religion in the world with the greatest ethical system/worldview, and proclaimed the gospel until they were murdered for it, did so as a complete hoax or lie.
Legendary Development Theory – modern day view, which claims that the Gospel narratives arose as legendary developments of early visionary experiences.
View: In the days, weeks, and months that followed Jesus’ death, his disciples began having dreams and vision in which they saw Jesus alive.
“These visions were probably first understood spiritually as the church came to believe that Jesus had been vindicated and exalted by God in the heavenly realm. In time, however, this spiritual resurrection took on concrete form with the belief that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave. Resurrection legends subsequently arise in which an empty tomb was discovered and Jesus’ disciples saw him alive.” – Mark L. Strauss
RESPONSE (EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION):
3 facts are universally believed: Jesus was crucified by the Romans around AD 30; He was buried in the guarded tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; the tomb was discovered empty.
On the empty tomb:
The gospel narratives say that women discovered the empty tomb. In 1st century Palestinian culture, women were not viewed as reliable witnesses. They weren’t even permitted to testify in court.
To sell this story, the disciples wouldn’t have chosen women as the first witnesses…unless it actually happened and they were simply reporting facts.
If the tomb hadn’t been empty, the church in Jerusalem (first one) would never have been successful. All that would have had to be done was for the authorities to reveal the actual tomb with Jesus’ body. It’s possible to start a movement based upon a lie on the other side of the world. It’s a little more difficult in your hometown where it happened.
Right after Jesus’ death, historical records show that the first Christians started gathering on the first day of the week (Sunday) as the Lord’s Day for worship. This points to a physical day in history in which there was a physical appearance from Jesus (not random spiritual experiences over time).
MANY credible witnesses saw Jesus alive.
Testimony of the women (see above)
Paul’s account of witnesses in 1 Cor. 15:3-8
Peter, other disciples, James his brother, and more than 500 people at once.
His statement that many were still alive was an invitation to verify his claims with the eyewitnesses.
The church was proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Jesus very soon after His death.
The argument that these appearances were hallucinations could be believable if they were isolated experiences.
Religious visions are usually personal & subjective. They are not communal (500 at once?).
The disciples’ experience of seeing the resurrected Jesus explains their transformed lives and the start of the Christian church.
Jesus dies – disciples are scattered & defeated.
Jesus rises – disciples are empowered to proclaim all the way to execution.
Final note: a bodily resurrection was a stumbling block to Greeks (spiritual is ultimate) and to Jews (resurrection=restoration at the end). The ancient mind did not have a category for a man who would rise from the dead in the midst of human history. For the disciples to advocate this would be odd (unless it really happened).
The Theological Resurrection
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Rom. 4:24-25)
THIS IS THE GOSPEL!!!
- God – God is good, holy, and just.
- Man – Man has fallen short of God’s standard. We’ve worshiped ourselves and created things, and stand guilty under wrath.
- Christ – Christ died as a substitute sacrifice for sinners, and rose victorious over sin and death.
- Response – We must repent of our sin, and trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
Because Jesus was raised, we are able to stand before God and be counted as “righteous” (justified) before Him by faith in what Christ has done. How will we respond?
The Cosmological Resurrection
The resurrection was a distinctively Jewish belief. Yet, it was unthinkable to the Jewish people that a resurrection could take place in the middle of history. It was reserved for the end of time (see Dan. 12:2-3).
Jesus’ resurrection signifies:
- The beginning of the “last days” and the final resurrection.
A new age has been established of salvation to all people and restoration. It will culminate in His victorious return and the resurrection of all people – resulting in judgment & mercy.
- Jesus’ resurrection means that believers will be raised in “glorified bodies,” which will shine like the stars forever (Dan. 12:3).
- The defeat of Satan, Sin, and Death:
- We don’t have to fear the power of Satan, because Jesus has triumphed over Satan and the forces of darkness.
- We don’t have to fear the consequences of our sin, because Jesus has atoned for them and has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can be transformed with a new identity.
- We don’t have to fear death, because Jesus’ resurrection to eternal life means that we too will be resurrected to eternal life with Him.
Our response to Jesus, if we believe the resurrection happened, should be like the disciples. Jesus is Lord! Jesus is our Savior! And this changes everything and should fuel our boldness in pointing people to Jesus. It’s a message to proclaim (1 Cor. 15:11). It should fuel our ability to reject the empty promises of the world, because Jesus has fulfilled those promises and will give us all things!
For further reflection: read Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (over 700 years before Jesus)
What is your worldview? Naturalistic or Theistic? The resurrection, if it’s true, can affect our worldview. If we look at it objectively we must be open to the fact that our worldview needs adjusting. A historical resurrection should be the presupposition that informs what we believe about God and our world.