For many years, people throughout the world have been asking the same question: “Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?” This is a question that should be of great interest, not only because the resurrection of Jesus is important for history, but also because within the answer lies the whole foundation of Christianity. “The bodily resurrection of Christ is an indispensable foundation of the Christian faith. No deviation on this doctrine should be tolerated within the ranks of orthodox Christianity”. This belief is of such importance that the body of Christ must stand or fall based on what is true about the resurrection.
WHY THE RESURRECTION?
The resurrection of Christ has been a hot topic of debate between Christians and non-Christians for many centuries. To the Christian, it seems that the resurrection of Christ needs no proof. Because, for the Christian, “in His resurrection, and perhaps most especially in the coming of His Holy Spirit, He gave and shared new life with all who trusted in Him”. However, to the skeptic, a man rising from the dead can be a hard concept to grasp. “Enemies of the church have sensed the critical place of the resurrection as evidenced by their repeated attacks upon it.” Believers, on the other hand, insist that it happened because people who knew Jesus actually saw him after his death. “To multiply evidence of the critical place of the resurrection in the Christian faith is unnecessary. How much depends on the testimony of those who professed to have seen Jesus alive after His death”. One must examine all the evidence and come to a rational conclusion on the matter.
Theories of the Resurrection
There are many different theories that non-believers have for the resurrection.
Ever since the disciples began to proclaim that Jesus was risen from the dead, some have denied the historical resurrection and have tried to come up with ways of explaining away the evidence through alternative theories. Most of these alternative explanations have proved to be blind alley sand have been unanimously rejected by contemporary scholarship.
First is the theft theory. This theory is simple: Jesus’ disciples stole his body from the tomb and buried it elsewhere. “Advanced first by the chief priests and elders of Israel immediately after the soldiers had reported the happenings at the tomb, it was probably the readiest explanation of the moment, for the possibility of such a thing occurring had been in their minds since the burial of Christ and their plans had been made with the object of preventing such an occurrence.” This theory is easily put to rest. “The soldiers were instructed to state that while they slept, the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus. If they were asleep, how did they know the body had been stolen? Or if stolen, that the disciples had taken it.”
The next theory to consider is the swoon theory. “According to this theory, Jesus was not dead when He was in the tomb, but was merely in a swoon, or faint; then after a temporary lapse of consciousness, He revived, was seen by some of His disciples, lived long enough to be seen by Paul, then finally died in some secret corner.” As with the one before, this theory also has some major holes in it.
After undergoing such fearful suffering, He would not be an inspiring sight. He would be an object of pity, rather than an inspiration to service. He would be looked upon as a failure. There would be no incentive to proclaim Him as the risen Lord.
Even before his crucifixion, Jesus was put through agonizing torture that no mortal man would have survived. “Under no circumstances could Jesus have recovered from the
Roman scourging and crucifixion, not to speak of the lance thrust, as quickly as this theory demands. Moreover, the purpose of the lance thrust was to ensure that the victim was actually dead.”
The third theory about the resurrection of Christ is the vision theory. This theory “indicates that the appearances of Jesus to His disciples were purely subjective in nature and were due to the excited state of mind in which they found themselves after the death of their Master.” This theory can be taken apart very easily. “For the application of such a theory as this, it is rightly indicated that a certain attitude of mind is required. There must needs be an expectancy of something about to happen. At least such would be the most favorable ground for visions of this nature.”
Next is the telegram theory. “According to this theory, the appearances of Christ were not purely subjective but had an objective cause; which, however, was not the body of Christ risen from the grave, but the glorified spirit of Christ producing visions of Himself for the comfort of His disciples, as if sending telegrams from heaven to let them know that all was well.” As with the others, there are some problems with this theory. The biggest one being Christ’s body. What happened to it? “As in the case of previous theories, no explanation is given in this theory respecting the disposal of the body of Jesus. Evidently it remained in the tomb. If so, the preaching would have been refuted with equal certainty by producing the body.”
The fifth and final theory is known as the legend theory. “According to this theory, there were no appearances to be accounted for. This theory says that the sightings of Christ after His resurrection were Christophanies, or visions of Christ. This theory is very imaginative and therefore “fails to explain the reason for the sudden change in the disciples from sad, discouraged, fearful individuals, to joyous, courageous witnesses to a risen Lord.”
Thesis on the Resurrection
The primary source of information on the resurrection of Christ comes solely from the New Testament.
Scripture lays great emphasis upon the resurrection of Jesus. We are informed therein that He died for our sins and rose again for our justification. Children of God are esteemed to be united with Him in death and resurrection.
Also found in the New Testament are four short biographies of Jesus that attest to His death and resurrection. “Each of His four biographers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—affirms that He did rise on the third day after His death; and from that time the doctrine of His resurrection became interwoven in all of the preaching and writing of His apostles as the foundation of the Church, and linked it with every hope of the human race.” The most important point to note about the New Testament gospels is their consistency. “Their simple memoirs and pastoral letters touch upon almost every conceivable subject that affects the interests of man here or hereafter, and they have been exposed for centuries to the fierce light of the most hostile criticism; but science can not lay its finger upon a single false statement, nor even point to one anachronism.”
Another important point to note about the Gospels is that they were written by four different people and from four different points of view. Because of this, there are some differences. Why are these differences important?
The most obvious response is that the reporters sensed that what they were writing was of supreme importance for the faith. As a result, the reporters must have taken special care in gathering their research materials and expressing themselves on paper.
More evidence for the resurrection of Christ are the witnesses who reported seeing him alive after his death. There are many witnesses throughout Scripture that give detailed accounts of seeing, talking with, and even touching Christ after His resurrection.
Turning then to the testimony of the original witnesses, we find them affirming in the most solemn manner that Jesus was seen after His resurrection, not once nor twice only, but again and again, appearing to Mary Magdalene; to Joanna and other women; to Simon Peter; to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus; to the ten disciples who were together on the evening of the day He rose, to the eleven as they sat at meat(sic); to all of them again when He ascended to heaven from the mount of Olives.
These people knew that this man was Jesus. This could not be a case of mistaken identity. “There can be no question about the certainty of the identity of Jesus. The disciples knew Him. His characteristic actions would be known to them: and there could be no mistake in their identification of Him.”
In his book, Beyond Resurrection, A.J.M. Wedderburn gives five reasons that Christ’s resurrection is a reality. The first of these reasons is the coming to faith of the disciples. The Gospels tell the whole story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. They also tell how after Jesus’ death, His disciples went back to their old jobs. This is evidence that they did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. “Now it is true that some have argued that this gives a misleading impression: the disciples really expected Jesus’ imminent resurrection, and the accounts of their dejection and despair are simply an artful ploy to offset the thrill of the resurrection appearances, a dark backcloth against which the brilliance of the resurrection shines more brightly.” This however, is not the case. Even though Jesus had told the disciples that he was going to rise from the dead, they did not understand.
There is, in short, much to be said for the Gospels’ portrayal of the disciples as despairing and despondent, as very far from confidently expecting the resurrection of the crucified Jesus. And had they previously expected it then it would seem that they had forgotten their martyrology in the heat of the moment. Far likelier, therefore, is the assumption that the disciples were taken by surprise by the turn of events and that nothing that Jesus said had really in fact prepared them for what was to come.
The next reason that Wedderburn gives is the subsequent celebration of the resurrection by the church on the first day of the week. “It could easily be overlooked, and often is, how significant is the fact that the first Christians chose to celebrate the first day of the week as their special day of celebration and meeting together?” Why did the early Christians choose the first day of the week as their day of worship. “Other explanations have been offered, but they seem implausible in comparison with the very obvious explanation that this day was venerated because it was affirmed that on it Christians had first encountered the risen Jesus.”
Wedderburn’s third reason for the reality of Christ’s resurrection is the women at the tomb. “It is a persistent and at the same time puzzling feature of the resurrection stories that it was a woman or women who first discovered the empty tomb, and in some cases women first encounter the risen Jesus.”
Wedderburn’s fourth reason is the failure of anyone to produce Jesus’ body subsequently. “It is also true that it remains a striking and puzzling feature of the rise of the Christian church and of its proclamation of the risen Jesus that the only refutation offered of its claim that Jesus had risen from his grave seems to have been the Jewish counter-claim that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body.” If, as the Jewish officials claimed, the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, then they would have had to dispose of it somehow, leaving His remains to be found.
Wedderburn’s final reason for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection is the absence of any cult around Jesus’ grave. Today, all across the world, people are able to visit the tombs of well-known religious leaders, but not Christ. “Although cultic veneration of heroes’ graves was well-attested in the Graeco-Roman world, we never read of any Christian veneration of that of Jesus.” There is no grave because there is no body.
For the Christian, Jesus’ resurrection is the most important date in history. From His resurrection comes our hope, our reason to live. Because He lives, so do we. “By rising, He shattered the hold that death had over all of us. Death could not keep Him down. And if we are joined to Him, neither can it keep us down.” Christ has triumphed over the grave, and because of Him Christians have the same promise. We too will one day be transformed to live with Him forever.
Anders, Max. New Testament Commentary: Matthew. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman, 2000.
Bergant, Diane. “What Happened?” America, April 5, 2004.
Boice, James Montgomery. The Parables of Jesus. Chicago, Illinois: Moody, 1983.
Brookes, James H. Did Jesus Rise?: A Book to Remove Doubts. New York, New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1945.
Craig, William Lane. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1981.
Eddleman, H. Leo. Teachings of Jesus. Nashville, Tennesse: Convention Press, 1955.
Erickson, Millard. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker. 1992.
Geisler, Norman. The Battle for the Resurrection. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
Harris, Murray J. 3 Crucial Questions about Jesus: Did Jesus Exist? Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? Is Jesus God?. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994.
MacArthur, John. MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 24-28. Chicago, Illinois: Moody, 1989.
Parsons, Elmer R. Witness to the Resurrection. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967.
Proctor, William. The Resurrection Report. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.
Thomson, Alexander. Did Jesus Rise From the Dead. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1911.
Wedderburn, A.J.M. Beyond Resurrection. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999.
Wells, Samuel. “Broken and Shared.” Christian Century, June 14, 2005.
 Norman Geisler. The Battle for the Resurrection. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 28.
 Samuel Wells. “Broken and Shared.” Christian Century, (June 14, 2005) 8.
 Elmer R. Parsons. Witness to the Resurrection. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967). 12.
 Ibid 13
 William Lane Craig. The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1981.) 23.
 Alexander Thomson. Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1911.) 20
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 21.
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 22.
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 21.
 Murray J.Harris. 3 Crucial Questions about Jesus: Did Jesus Exist? Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? Is Jesus God?. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994.) 37.
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 22
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 23
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 24
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 25
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 26
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 11
 James H.Brookes. Did Jesus Rise?: A Book to Remove Doubts. (New York, New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1945) 7
 Brookes Did Jesus Rise? 70
 William Proctor. The Resurrection Report. (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998) 44
 Brookes Did Jesus Rise? 75
 Thomson, Did Jesus, 53
 A.J.M. Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1999) 39.
 Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection. 46.
 Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection. 48
 Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection. 49
 Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection 57
Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection 61
 Wedderburn. Beyond Resurrection 63
 Diane Bergant. “What Happened?” America, April 5, 2004
Billy Crow, Christ follower, husband of Meggin, daddy of Hannah and Eli. Blessed beyond measure in every way.