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The Resurrection

"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man ... He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him."

Josephus

 

The Resurrection: Miracle or Myth

By Hank Hanegraaff

What was the central truth of the early apostles' preaching? What was the stimulus to the miraculous growth of the early church? What was the energizing force which spread the gospel across the face of the earth? These questions, posed by Dr. Walter Martin in his book Essential Christianity, all find their answer in the singular event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. "He is risen!" was the victory cry of the early Christians, as they spread the message of Christ's bodily resurrection to the ends of the earth.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very capstone in the arch of Christianity. When it is removed, all else crumbles. It is, in fact, the singular doctrine that elevated Christianity above all the pagan religions of the Mediterranean world. And it is precisely because of its strategic importance to the Christian faith that each person who takes the sacred name Christian upon his lips must be prepared to defend its historicity.

Thus the question must be asked, How can we know beyond any doubt that Jesus really rose from the dead-that this singular event is not some predilection on the part of the Christian but is rather faith founded on irrefutable fact?

As Christians, we must be prepared to demonstrate that Christ's resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space-that it was, in reality, historical and not mythological (cf. 2 Peter 1:16). The importance of this event cannot be minimized, for Jesus Himself proclaimed that His resurrection would prove His power over death, and thus His deity (John 2:18-22). Not only that, but Christ's resurrection is the very heart of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

When I first began examining the evidences for Christianity, I discovered that belief in the resurrection does not constitute a blind leap into a dark chasm but rather a step into the light. Indeed, the evidence for Christ's resurrection is so overwhelming that no one can examine it with an open mind desiring to know the truth without becoming convinced of its truth.

Of the many evidences available, none is more compelling than the fact that the resurrected Christ appeared to over five hundred individuals at a single time (1 Corinthians 15:6). Christ appeared to numerous other individuals as well, providing "many convincing proofs" of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Christ in His resurrection body was even touched on two occasions (Matthew 28:9; John 20:17), and He challenged the disciples (Luke 24:39) and Thomas (John 20:27) to feel His wounds.

For those who continue to harbor doubts about the veracity of the biblical evidence, one need only point to Dr. Simon Greenleaf, the greatest authority on legal evidences in the 19th century. It is noteworthy that after examining the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Greenleaf suggested that any cross-examination of the eyewitness testimonies recorded in Scripture would result in "an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth."

Despite the biblical evidence, some have suggested that Jesus' body was stolen from the tomb-by either the Romans, the Jews, or the disciples. However, even as we consider such alternative explanations, reason drives us back to the conclusion that Christ rose from the dead. Consider the following: We know that the Romans would have no reason to steal Christ's body. After all, they wanted to keep the peace in Palestine.

The Jewish religious leaders would also have no motive in stealing the body since that would only stir up the very movement they had tried to crush. Besides, if the Jewish leaders had stolen the body, they could have later openly displayed the body to prove to the disciples and indeed the world that Jesus had not really risen from the dead.

And certainly, the disciples wouldn't have stolen the body, for why would they choose to suffer and die for a cause they knew to be a lie? While it is conceivable that someone might choose to die for what they know to be the truth, it is inconceivable that hundreds of Jesus' followers would be willing to die for what they knew to be a lie.

Another theory that has been resuscitated (ad nauseam and ad infinitum) in a desperate attempt to explain away the resurrection is the so-called "swoon theory." This theory says that Jesus did not really die on the cross, but merely passed out and was later revived. However, this theory is hopelessly flawed. Think about it for a minute. Can you imagine that Jesus endured several trials, a crown of thorns, a Roman scourge, a crucifixion, a spear thrust into His side, the loss of a great deal of blood, going three days without medical attention or food, pushing a two-ton stone away from His tomb's entrance, and then physically overcoming an armed Roman guard while walking on pierced feet? No! The swoon theory is ridiculous in the extreme. And yet, amazingly, some people continue to hang their hats on it.

After carefully examining all the evidence, one can only come to the singular conclusion that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and that He now lives to be our Lord and Savior (Revelation 1:18). And let me emphasize that the resurrection of Christ is not just an Easter-time phenomenon to be celebrated in song and service. Rather, it is a truth that should daily fill us with eternal hope. Not only did the resurrection of Christ transform the disciples from cowards to lions of the faith, but His resurrection still continues to transform lives today. Because Christ lives, the Scripture says, we will live also. Indeed, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be transformed into physical resurrected bodies like unto His resurrected body.

Does Circumstantial Evidence Confirm It?

As Chuck Colson reported in his BreakPoint commentary (April 19, 2001), philosopher J. P. Moreland was once asked, "Can you give me five pieces of solid circumstantial evidence that convince you Jesus rose from the dead?" (Circumstantial evidence is an accumulation of facts from which one can draw intelligent conclusions.)

Certainly, Moreland responded. First, there's the evidence of the skeptics. Some of those who were most hostile to Jesus prior to his death became his most ardent supporters afterwards.

Second, the ancient Jews had a number of immensely important religious rituals. These included the offering of animal sacrifices, obeying the Mosaic law, and keeping the Sabbath. But within five weeks of Jesus' death, more than 10,000 Jews had suddenly altered or abandoned these rituals. Moreland asked: Why would they relinquish rites that had long given them their national identity? The implication is that something enormously significant had occurred.

Third, we see the emergence of new rituals: the sacraments of communion and baptism. The early Jews baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, "which," Moreland said, "meant they had elevated Jesus to the full status of God."

Fourth, we see the rapid rise of a new church, beginning shortly after the death of Jesus. Within twenty years, this new church-begun by the companions of a dead carpenter-had reached Caesar's palace in Rome, and eventually spread throughout the Roman Empire.

And fifth, Moreland said, there's the most convincing circumstantial evidence of all: the fact that every one of Jesus' disciples was willing to suffer and die for his beliefs. These men spent the rest of their lives witnessing about Christ. They frequently went without food; they were mocked, beaten, and thrown into prison. In the end, all but one died a painful martyr's death.

Would they have done this for a lie? Of course not. They did it because they were convinced beyond a doubt that they had seen the risen Christ.

Even if we doubted 2,000-year-old evidence, we have all the circumstantial evidence we could possibly want-right in front of us. It is, as Moreland said, "the ongoing encounter with the resurrected Christ that happens all over the world, in every culture, to people from all kinds of backgrounds and personalities. They all will testify that more than any single thing in their lives, Jesus Christ has changed them."[1]



[1] Cameron, K., & Comfort, R. (2004). The school of biblical evangelism: 101 lessons: how to share your faith simply, effectively, biblically-the way Jesus did (pp. 332-337). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.