For centuries many of the world's distinguished philosophers have assaulted
Christianity as being irrational, superstitious and absurd. Many have chosen simply to
ignore the central issue of the resurrection. Others have tried to explain it away through
various theories. But the historical evidence just can't be discounted. How can we explain the empty tomb? Can it possibly be accounted for by any natural cause? After countless hours of studying this subject, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever pulled on the minds of human beingsor it is the most remarkable fact of history. In this Thinking Cap I would like to share with you some of the facts relevant to the resurrection: Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to be the Christ prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures, was arrested, was judged a political criminal, and was crucified.
Three days after His death and burial, some women who went to His tomb found the body
gone. In subsequent weeks, His disciples claimed that God had raised Him from the dead and
that He appeared to them various times before ascending into
heaven. From that foundation, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and has continued to exert great influence down through the centuries.
The New Testament accounts of the resurrection were being circulated within the lifetimes of men and women alive at the time of the resurrection. Those people could certainly have confirmed or denied the accuracy of such accounts. The writers of the four Gospels either had themselves been witnesses or else were relating the accounts of eyewitnesses of the actual events. In advocating their case for the gospel, a word that means "good news," the apostles appealed (even when confronting their most severe opponents) to common knowledge concerning the facts of the resurrection.
The New Testament witnesses were fully aware of the background against which the resurrection took place. The body of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish burial custom, was wrapped in a linen cloth. About 100 pounds of aromatic spices, mixed together to form a gummy substance, were applied to the wrappings of cloth about the body. After the body was placed in a solid rock tomb, an extremely large stone was rolled against the entrance of the tomb. Large stones weighing approximately two tons were normally rolled (by means of levers) against a tomb entrance.
A Roman guard of strictly disciplined fighting men was stationed to guard the tomb. This guard affixed on the tomb the Roman seal, which was meant to prevent any attempt at vandalizing the sepulcher. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law. But three days later the tomb was empty. The followers of Jesus said He had risen from the dead. They reported that He appeared to them during a period of 40 days, showing Himself to them by many "infallible proofs." Luke tells us in Acts 1:1-3, The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: 3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion [pascho - an intense period of suffering] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Paul the apostle recounted that Jesus appeared to more than 500 of His followers at one time, the majority of whom were still alive and who could confirm what Paul wrote. So many security precautions were taken with the trial, crucifixion, burial, entombment, sealing, and guarding of Christ's tomb that it becomes very difficult for critics to defend their position that Christ did not rise from the dead. Lets consider ten reasons why you can believe in the resurrection.
1. A Public Execution Assured His Death
During the Jewish Feast of Passover, Jesus was swept away by an angry crowd into a Roman hall of justice. As He stood before Pilate, the governor of Judea, religious leaders accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews. The crowd demanded His death. Jesus was beaten, whipped, and sentenced to a public execution. On a hill outside of Jerusalem, He was crucified between two criminals. Brokenhearted friends and mocking enemies shared in His deathwatch. As the Sabbath neared, Roman soldiers were sent to finish the execution. To quicken death, they broke the legs of the two criminals. But when they came to Jesus they did not break His legs, because from experience they knew He was already dead. As a final precaution, however, they thrust a spear into His side. It would take more than resuscitation for Him to ever trouble them again. John writes in the 19th chapter and the 34th verse of his epistle, But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. Perhaps the spear punctured the stomach and the heart accounting for the flow. Regardless of the cause, Jesus was a real human and died a real death.
2. A High Official Secured The Gravesite
The next day, religious leaders again met with Pilate. They said Jesus had predicted He would rise in 3 days. To assure that the disciples could not conspire in a resurrection hoax, Pilate ordered the official seal of Rome to be attached to the tomb to put grave robbers on notice. The seal stood for the power and authority of the Roman Empire. The consequences of breaking the seal were extremely severe. The FBI and CIA of the Roman Empire were called into action to find the man or men who were responsible. If they were apprehended, it meant automatic execution by crucifixion upside down. People feared the breaking of the seal. To enforce the order, soldiers stood guard. Any disciple who wanted to tamper with the body would have had to get by these guards, which wouldn't have been easy.
There are a variety of painful deaths, but the Romans had perfected their technique.
The Roman guards had good reason for staying alert--the penalty for falling asleep while on watch was death. One way a guard was put to death was by being stripped of his clothes and then burned alive in a fire started with his garments. If it was not apparent which soldier had failed in his duty, then lots were drawn to see which one would be punished with death for the guard unit's failure. Certainly the entire unit would not have fallen asleep with that kind of threat over their heads. Dr. George Currie, a student of Roman military discipline, wrote that fear of punishment "produced flawless attention to duty, especially in the night watches."
3. In Spite Of Guards, The Grave Was Found Empty
On the morning after the Sabbath, some of Jesus' followers went to the grave to anoint His body. But when they arrived, they were surprised at what they found. The huge stone that weighed near two tons, that had been rolled into place over the entrance to the tomb had been moved, and Jesus' body was gone. As word got out, two disciples rushed to the burial site. The tomb was empty except for Jesus' burial wrappings, which were lying neatly in place.
So in a literal sense, the tomb was not totally empty because of an amazing phenomenon. John, a disciple of Jesus, looked over to the place where the body of Jesus had lain, and there were the grave clothes, in the form of the body, slightly caved in and emptylike the empty chrysalis of a caterpillar's cocoon. That's enough to make a believer out of anybody. John never did get over it. The first thing that stuck in the minds of the disciples was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty grave clothesundisturbed in form and position.
In the meantime, some of the guards had gone into Jerusalem to tell the Jewish officials that they had fainted in the presence of a supernatural being that rolled the stone away. And when they woke up, the tomb was empty. The officials paid the guards a large sum of money to lie and say that the disciples stole the body while the soldiers slept. They assured the guards that if the report of the missing body got back to the governor they would intercede on their behalf.
I find it interesting that the disciples of Christ did not go off to Athens or Rome to preach that Christ was raised from the dead. Rather, they went right back to the city of Jerusalem, where, if what they were teaching was false, the falsity would be evident. The empty tomb was too notorious to be denied. The resurrection could have not been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.
Both Jewish and Roman sources and traditions admit an empty tomb. Those resources range from Josephus to a compilation of fifth-century Jewish writings called the "Toledoth Jeshu." I refer to this as "positive evidence from a hostile source, which is the strongest kind of historical evidence. In essence, this means that if a source admits a fact decidedly not in its favor, then that fact is genuine.
Gamaliel, who was a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, put forth the suggestion that the rise of the Christian movement was God's doing. Acts 5:34-35, Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; 35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. 39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. He could not have done that if the tomb were still occupied, or if the Sanhedrin knew the whereabouts of Christ's body.
If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, archaeology, or epigraphy, that would disprove this statement.
4. Many People Claimed To Have Seen Him Alive
About AD 55, the apostle Paul wrote that the resurrected Christ had been seen by Peter, the 12 apostles, more than 500 people (many of whom were still alive at the time of his writing), James, and himself. 1 Cor 15:5-8, And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. [Paul is referring to the fact that he was born again after the earthly ministry of Jesus] By making such a public statement, he gave critics a chance to check out his claims for themselves. In addition, the New Testament begins its history of the followers of Christ by saying that Jesus "shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3).
Christ appeared alive on several occasions after the cataclysmic events of that first Easter. When studying an event in history, it is important to know whether enough people who were participants or eyewitnesses to the event were alive when the facts about the event were published. To know this is obviously helpful in ascertaining the accuracy of the published report. If the number of eyewitnesses is substantial, the event can he regarded as fairly well established. For instance, if we all witness a murder, and a later police report turns out to be a fabrication of lies, we as eyewitnesses can refute it.
A. Over 500 Witnesses Several very important factors are often overlooked when considering Christ's post-resurrection appearances to individuals. The first is the large number of witnesses of Christ after that resurrection morning. One of the earliest records of Christ's appearing after the resurrection is by Paul. The apostle appealed to his audience's knowledge of the fact that Christ had been seen by more than 500 people at one time. Paul reminded them that the majority of those people were still alive and could be questioned. Paul says in effect, 'If you do not believe me, you can ask them.' Such a statement in an admittedly genuine letter written within thirty years of the event is almost as strong evidence as one could hope to get for something that happened nearly two thousand years ago. Let's take the more than 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after His death and burial, and place them in a courtroom.
Do you realize that if each of those 500 people were to testify for only six minutes, including cross-examination, you would have an amazing 50 hours of firsthand testimony? Add to this the testimony of many other eyewitnesses and you would well have the largest and most lopsided trial in history.
B. Hostile Witnesses
Another factor crucial to interpreting Christ's appearances is that He also appeared to those who were hostile or unconvinced. Over and over again, I have read or heard people comment that Jesus was seen alive after His death and burial only by His friends and followers. Using that argument, they attempt to water down the overwhelming impact of the multiple eyewitness accounts. But that line of reasoning is so pathetic it hardly deserves comment. No author or informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus as being a follower of Christ. The facts show the exact opposite. Saul despised Christ and persecuted Christ's followers. It was a life-shattering experience when Christ appeared to him. The argument that Christ's appearances were only to followers is an argument for the most part from silence, and arguments from silence can be dangerous. It is equally possible that all to whom Jesus appeared became followers. No one acquainted with the facts can accurately say that Jesus appeared to just "an insignificant few."
Christians believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected in time and space by the supernatural power of God. The difficulties of belief may be great, but the problems inherent in unbelief present even greater difficulties.
A. N. Sherwin-White, a Classical Roman Historian, wrote, For the New Testament of Acts, the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity, even in matters of detail, must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.
Professor Thomas Arnold, author of the famous, History of Rome, and appointed to the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar said: "I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of not one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God hath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead."
5. His Apostles Were Dramatically Changed
When one of Jesus' inner circle defected and betrayed Him, the other apostles ran for their lives. Even Peter, who earlier had insisted that he was ready to die for his teacher, lost heart and denied that he even knew Jesus. But the apostles went through a dramatic change.
Within a few weeks, they were standing face to face with the ones who had crucified their leader. Their spirit was like iron. They became unstoppable in their determination to sacrifice everything for the one they called Savior and Lord. Even after they were imprisoned, threatened, and forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus, the apostles said to the Jewish leaders, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). After they were beaten for disobeying the orders of the Jewish council, these once-cowardly apostles "did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ? Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their effortsprestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefitswe might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted and total allegiance to this "risen Christ."
As a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking. Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message.
6. Witnesses Were Willing To Die For Their Claims
History is full of martyrs. Countless men and women have died for their beliefs. For that reason, it is not that significant to point out that the first disciples were willing to suffer and die for their faith. But it is significant that while many will die for what they believe to be the truth, few if any will die for what they know to be a lie. That psychological fact is important because the disciples of Christ did not die for deeply held beliefs about which they could have been honestly mistaken. They died for their claims to have seen Jesus alive and well after His resurrection. They died for their claim that Jesus Christ had not only died for their sins but that He had risen bodily from the dead to show that He was like no other spiritual leader who had ever lived.
7. Jewish Believers Changed Their Day Of Worship
The Sabbath day of rest and worship was basic to the Jewish way of life. Any Jew who did not honor the Sabbath was guilty of breaking the law of Moses. Yet Jewish followers of Christ began worshipping with Gentile believers on a new day. The first day of the week, the day on which they believed Christ had risen from the dead, replaced the Sabbath. For a Jew, it reflected a major change of life. The new day, along with the Christian conversion rite of baptism, declared that those who believed Christ had risen from the dead were ready for more than a renewal of Judaism. They believed that the death and resurrection of Christ had cleared the way for a new relationship with God. The new way was based not on the law, but on the sin-bearing, life-giving help of a resurrected Savior.
8. Although It Was Unexpected, It Was Clearly Predicted
The disciples were caught off guard. They expected their Messiah to restore the kingdom to Israel. Their minds were so fixed on the coming of a messianic political kingdom that they didn't anticipate the events essential to the salvation of their souls. They must have thought Christ was speaking in symbolic language when He kept saying over and over that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem to die and be resurrected from the dead.
Coming from one who spoke in parables, they missed the obvious until after it was all over.
In the process, they also overlooked the prophet Isaiah's prediction of a suffering servant who would bear the sins of Israel, being led like a lamb to the slaughter, before God "prolong[ed] His days" (Isaiah 53:10).
9. It Was A Fitting Climax To A Miraculous Life
While Jesus hung on a Roman cross, crowds mocked Him. He helped others, but could He help Himself? Was the miracle suddenly coming to an end? It seemed like such an unexpected ending for someone who began His public life by turning water into wine.
During His 3-year ministry, He walked on water; healed the sick; opened blind eyes,
deaf ears, and tongue-tied mouths; restored crippled limbs; cast out demons; stilled a
violent storm; and raised the dead. He asked questions wise men couldn't answer. He taught
profound truths with the simplest of comparisons. And He confronted hypocrites with words
that exposed their cover-up. If all this was true, should we be surprised that His enemies
didn't have the last word? He indeed would rise triumphant over death. Paul writes,
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 57 But thanks be
to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:55, 57)
10. It Fits The Experience Of Those Who Trust Him
The apostle Paul wrote, "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Romans 8:11). This was the experience of Paul, whose heart was dramatically changed by the resurrected Christ. It is also the experience of people all over the world who have "died" to their old ways so that Christ can live His life through them. This spiritual power is not evident in those who try to add belief in Christ to their old life. It is seen only in those who are willing to "die" to their old life to make room for the rule of Christ. It is apparent only in those who respond to the overwhelming evidence for Christ's resurrection by acknowledging His lordship in their heart. How do you evaluate this overwhelming historical evidence? What is your decision about the fact of Christ's empty tomb? What do you think of Christ? When I was confronted with the overwhelming evidence for Christ's resurrection, I had to ask the logical question: "What difference does all this evidence make to me? What difference does it make whether or not I believe Christ rose again and died on the cross for my sins!' The answer is put best by something Jesus said to a man who doubtedThomas. Jesus told him: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by [through] Me" (John 14:6).
On the basis of all the evidence for Christ's resurrection, and considering the fact that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship with God, who would be so foolhardy as to reject Him? Christ is alive! He is living today. At the University of Chicago Divinity School each year they have what is called "Baptist Day". It is a day when all the Baptists in the area are invited to the school because they want the Baptist dollars to keep coming in. On this day each one is to bring a lunch to be eaten outdoors in a grassy picnic area. Every "Baptist Day" the school would invite one of the greatest minds to lecture in the theological education center. One year they invited Dr. Paul Tillich. Dr. Tillich spoke for two and one-half hours proving that the resurrection of Jesus was false. He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no such thing as the historical resurrection the religious tradition of the church was groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo, because it was based on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact, never rose from the dead in any literal sense. He then asked if there were any questions.
After about 30 seconds, an old, dark skinned preacher with a head of short-cropped, woolly white hair stood up in the back of the auditorium. "Docta Tillich, I got one question," he said as all eyes turned toward him. He reached into his sack lunch and pulled out an apple and began eating it. "Docta Tillich ..." CRUNCH, MUNCH ... "My question is a simple question," CRUNCH, MUNCH ..."Now I ain't never read them books you read ...
" CRUNCH, MUNCH ... "and I can't recite the Scriptures in the original Greek... " CRUNCH, MUNCH ... "I don't know nothin' about Niebuhr and Heidegger ..." CRUNCH, MUNCH ...
He finished the apple. "All I wanna know is: This apple I just ate -- was it bitter or sweet?" Dr. Tillich paused for a moment and answered in exemplary scholarly fashion: "I cannot possibly answer that question, for I haven't tasted your apple." The white-haired preacher dropped the core of his apple into his crumpled paper bag, looked up at Dr. Tillich and said calmly, "Neither have you tasted my Jesus."
Have you tasted Jesus? In Psalm 34:8 we read: Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. If you have, rejoice in the hope of the resurrection that your faith in Him brings.
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE JESUS CAME
Twas the night before Jesus came, and all through the house,
Not a creature was praying, not one in the house.
Their Bibles were put on the shelf without care,
In hopes that Jesus would never come there.
The children were dressing to crawl into bed,
Without ever kneeling or bowing a head.
Mom in her rocker with Sue on her lap,
Was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.
When out of the East there rose such a clatter,
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But angels proclaiming that Jesus was here.
With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray,
I knew in a moment this must be the day.
The light of His face made me cover my head,
It was Jesus, returning just like He said.
And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth,
I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.
In the Book of Life which He held in His hand,
Was written the name of every saved man.
He spoke not a word as He searched for my name,
When He said "It's not Here," my head hung in shame.
The people whose names had been written with love,
He gathered to take to His Father above.
With those who were ready, He rose with no sound,
While all the rest were left on the ground.
I fell to my knees but it was too late;
I'd waited too long and thus sealed my fate.
I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight;
Oh, if only we'd been ready tonight!
In the words of this poem the meaning is clear:
The coming of Jesus is drawing near.
There's only one life; when comes the last call;
We'll find that the Bible was true after all.
What will you do with Jesus today? Some who read this Thinking Cap need to accept Him as their personal Savior. Others reading this need to publicly confess Him by being baptized. Others need to share this Jesus with someone. Some need to start serving him in the local church. Every single person who reads this has some decision that they need to make regarding what they will do with the Resurrected Living Christ.
Return to Thinking Cap Homepage
Copyright 1998 by the Gospel Martial Arts Union All rights reserved.