“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David; such is my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8).
And so we arrive at the final installment of a study looking at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In part I and part II, I gave the following proofs or reasons why Christians believe in the literal and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ:
1. Jesus predicted his own resurrection.
2. The authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the Apostle Paul in his letters, provide at least five different historic sources about the events.
3. The testimony of eyewitnesses.
4. The testimony of the earliest Christian writings.
5. The empty tomb.
6. The dramatic change that overcame the earliest disciples
7. The idea that Christianity is be founded on a momentous fraud concocted by the original Christians who, while preaching, teaching, and demonstrating love, kindness, goodness, etc., were some of the most wicked liars and deceivers in human history.
So now we come to another proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: The astonishingly rapid growth of the Christian Church.
“The faith in the crucified and risen [Jesus] accomplished what the faith in the living [Jesus] had not been able to affect,—the founding of a new Church, the separation from Judaism and the conquest of the world. Whence came this change?”[i] Considering the personalities of the eleven original and remaining disciples, how did such a movement catch on? “[S]eriously, does this rather heterogeneous body of simple folk, reeling under the shock of the Crucifixion, the utter degradation and death of their Leader, look like the driving force we require?”[ii]
“Only from an intensely heated center of burning zeal could this vast field of lava been thrown out from a tiny country like Palestine to the limits of the Roman world. We cannot insist on the strict reign of causality in the physical world and deny it in the psychological. The phenomenon that here confronts us is one of the biggest dislodgments of events in the world’s history, and it can be accounted for only by an initial impact of colossal drive and power.”[iii]
As another author put it:
“An effect must have a cause at least as great as itself, isn’t that true? I do not see what could have caused this [miraculous outbreak of belief and changed lives that spread across the Roman world] except an even greater miracle. The resurrection would have such power, but how could a lie have such power?”[iv]
The spread of Christianity date back to soon after Jesus’ crucifixion:
“The story of the Resurrection, which was taught and preached throughout the ancient world during the first forty years of the Christian era, was not told or created by outsiders, but by the original band of followers of Jesus. They did not wait two or three decades before giving their version to the world. They began their organized campaign within two months of the occurrences. Within three decades most of them had perished violently for their adhesion to this very story.”[v]
“Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern [shores] of the Mediterranean…. In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire.”[vi]
G.K. Chesterton, observing, as it were, from the outside, wrote,
“The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to have made a scene somewhere…. The incident… began to arouse irritation out of proportion to its insignificance…. it sounded [odd] enough. They seemed to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him die…. only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seemed quite unnaturally joyful about it…. According to other accounts God was not exactly dead after all…. Men used to many mythologies and moralities could make no analysis of the mystery, except the curious conjecture that [these believers] meant what they said. All attempts to make them see reason in the perfectly simple matter of [worshipping] the Emperor’s statue seemed to be spoken to dead men…. With strange rapidity… the proportions of things seemed to change…. Before most men knew what had happened, these few [Christians] were palpably present [everywhere]…. New tortures [were] invented for the madmen who have brought [this] news.”[vii]
Why be tortured and die for a lie? Of course, there are those who say, “The disciples all hallucinated that Jesus had risen from the dead. Delusional people might die for their delusions.” Well, as the “Who’s on First” routine by Abbot and Costello keeps taking us back to “first base,” so also the many counter ideas always take us back to our first base: the empty tomb. If Jesus had not been raised, all that was needed was for the enemies of the delusional Christians to produce the body of Jesus.
“But the disciples only meant all this resurrected Jesus stuff as an allegory,” the detractors might say. Again the answer is the empty tomb (first base). If people took the resurrection accounts simply as allegorical stories, then we could expect there to be veneration at the tomb of Jesus from the earliest days of Christianity until now, but there is no history of any such veneration in the early decades or centuries of the Christian era.
The question still remains: Why would all the disciples die for a lie which they themselves made up? Why didn’t one of them confess the resurrection deception or admit it was only an allegory? Why wouldn’t one of them have come forward and said, “Yes, we stole the body” or “We didn’t mean it literally!” Does it really make sense to believe that “[t]welve Jewish peasants invented the world’s most fantastic and successful lie for no reason at all and died for it willingly and joyfully, as martyrs… [as] did millions of others”?[viii] And why did the next generation believe? because the eyewitnesses were convincing and believable; they were beyond suspicion. All believed that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. But today’s detractors choose to think that “millions of Christians throughout history believed that Jesus literally rose from the dead…. [though] Jesus’ original disciples knew better… [and] they must have [because] they moved the stone and stole the body.”[ix]
Yes, Christians have always believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I believe it. The resurrection is the key to all Christian belief. It is the key to all understanding of Christ, to all biblical interpretation, and to all interpretation and understanding of the world. The resurrection is the pinnacle of history. The enemies of God and the Gospel, have sought to attack the resurrection of Christ from every possible angle. New theories arise every decade in attempt to discredit the fact of the resurrection. And, honestly, the endless attacks also help me to believe it is true.
As it was written three thousand years ago:
“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD [Yahweh] and against his Anointed One [Messiah or Christ]. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their [ropes]’” (Psalm 2:1-3, NIV).
Yet even today there are cults that claim to be Christian, but who either deny the resurrection or seek to change it in some way. The so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” say that Jesus rose from the dead, but as a spirit of some sort. But let us look at Christ’s own words:
Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”
Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body (John 2:19-21).
What was Jesus saying in the passage above? In essence He said, “Destroy this body, and I will raise this body again in three days.” It was to be the same body. As one author writes, “In fact, without continuity, there is no point in even using the word resurrection.”[x] A denial of Jesus’ resurrection in the same physical body is a denial of the Gospels. Consider also that the Gospels teach that the resurrected Jesus still bore the physical scars of the crucifixion,[xi] that he ate food after He was resurrected,[xii] and that the disciples touched Him.[xiii] Make note of Christ’s words to the disciples when He said, “Look at my hands and my feet; it’s me! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones like you see I have” (Luke 24:39).
There are also abhorrent heretics, weeds and tares, who claim to be Christians but who teach that the resurrection was only an allegory, or “a wonderful metaphor of Christian hope.” (“Bishop” Shelby Spong comes to mind.)[xiv] It takes a vehement denial of the words of the New Testament to believe that all of the writers did not communicate an actual historic resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that they themselves had been witnesses of the risen Christ.
“All evidence of the New Testament goes to show that the burden of the good news or gospel was not ‘Follow this Teacher and do your best,’ but, ‘Jesus and the Resurrection.’ You cannot take that away from Christianity without… destroying its very identity.”[xv]
All in all, the skeptics and the deconstructionists have the same New Testament writings that we have; unfortunately most deny the miraculous a priori or outright, this of course includes the resurrection. “Scholars” in the last 200 years especially have tried to deconstruct the testimony of the New Testament in a plethora of ways.[xvi] C.S. Lewis once said that he thought “it was quite incredible that we should have to wait 2,000 years to be told [by someone] that what the Church has always regarded as a miracle was, in fact, a parable!”[xvii] Lewis then wrote:
“These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight…. [Also] I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur…. The [presupposition] ‘If miraculous, [it is] unhistorical’ is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it.”[xviii]
Yes, Christians believe in the reliability of the eyewitness testimony about Jesus’ resurrection. We believe it is history. “But isn’t Christianity all about faith?” Yes it is. First, most people don’t realize that we all live our lives by faith; though some won’t admit as much. Everyone has presuppositions, places faith in others, in things they are told about but never investigated or witnessed or ever could witness. Now while we Christians believe in the historic resurrection of Jesus Christ, based on the same kind of evidence that allows people to believe that Hannibal crossed the Alps on elephants or that Hammurabi compiled a code of laws, the central faith of Christians is placed in what the incarnation, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ mean for us. As someone else has said, “[T]he fact of the resurrection is a historical matter” but “[t]he meaning of the resurrection is a theological matter…”[xix] By faith we believe in the meaning, significance, and future ramifications of the resurrection: vindication of Christ’s teachings, acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice by God the Father, justification and eternal life for those who believe in Him.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even if he dies” (John 11:25).
Click here if you would like to read “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, part 1”.
Click here if you would like to read “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, part 2”.
[i] William Park Armstrong, excerpted from Biblical and Theological Studies, A commemoration of 100 Years of Princeton Seminary, Solid Ground Christian Books, 2003, from the essay entitled, “The Place of the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus,” page 319.
[iii] Ibid, page 105.
[iv] Peter Kreeft, Socrates Meets Jesus, History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ, copyright 1987 by Peter Kreeft, InterVarsity Press, chapter entitled “Look Out! It’s Alive!”, page 175.
[v] Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone?, published by Lamplighter Books, chapter entitled “The Historic Crux of the Problem,” page 108.
[vi] Ibid, page 115.
[viii] Peter Kreeft, Socrates Meets Jesus, History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ, copyright 1987 by Peter Kreeft, InterVarsity Press, chapter entitled “Look Out! It’s Alive!”, page 175.
[ix] Ibid, page 174.
[xi] Luke 24:40, John 20:20, John 20:24-29.
[xii] Luke 24:41-43, Acts 1:4.
[xiii] Matthew 28:9 and very much inferred by John 20:17.
[xiv] I am reminded here of C.S. Lewis words in his book God in the Dock: “[Boundary] lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease… to be Christian: and I would suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many… think.” Directly to liberal priests, pastors, and “bishops” he writes, “I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially [sic] as Christians or as [clergy] but as honest men.” He continues: “We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: What we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them” (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, copyright 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Eerdmans, pages 89-90.
[xv] Wilbur Smith as quoted in Evidence for Christianity, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, chapter entitled “The Resurrection—Hoax or History,” page 250.
[xvi] For some of the deconstructionist/detractor/skeptic claims answered from a Christian perspective see: http://www.frontline-apologetics.com/Resurrection_Narratives.html and http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2007/s07040030.htm.
[xvii] As quoted in a footnote in The Seeing Eye, and Other Selected Essays from Christian Reflections, copyright 1967 by The Executors of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Ballantine, page 203.
[xviii] C.S. Lewis, The Seeing Eye, and Other Selected Essays from Christian Reflections, copyright 1967 by The Executors of the Estate of C.S. Lewis, published by Ballantine, pages 210 and 212.
[xix] Wilbur Smith as quoted in Evidence for Christianity, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, copyright 2006 by Josh McDowell, Thomas Nelson Publishers, chapter entitled “The Resurrection—Hoax or History,” page 255.