4.3.4 Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus
“If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain” (1 Cor. 15:17), wrote Paul. It would mean that we have “hope in this life only” (1 Cor. 15:19). Our religion would just be a crutch to help us cough and hack our way through our years, and that would be all. Yet in Jesus there is hope. And the hope is the “the hope of the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 23:6). Remember how Ibrahim believed his son would be resurrected as a result of God’s provision of a sacrificial lamb. And likewise for all of us, our resurrection is a result of the fact that Jesus was our representative [not our substitute], one of us, yet who overcame sin. Through being “in Him”, His resurrection opens the way for ours. For all that is true of Him becomes in some way true of us. “Because I live, ye shall live also” (Jn. 14:19). Jesus Himself testified to His own death and resurrection: “I am he that lives, and was dead…I [therefore] have the keys of the grave” (Rev. 1:18). Because of His resurrection, those who are “in Christ” have the hope of sharing in that resurrection when He returns. Consider the force of Romans 6:3-5: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection”. Because He lives, therefore the lives we live now are lived out “in newness of life”.
Because he had our nature, Christ had to die. He was a descendant of Adam through Mary, and all of Adam’s children have to die (1 Cor. 15:22). All Adam’s descendants had to die because of his, Adam’s, sin, regardless of their personal situation. “Death reigned...through the offence of one (Adam) many be dead...the judgment was (on account of) one (Adam) to condemnation (to death)...by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners”, and therefore had to die (Rom. 5:14-19 cf. 6:23). As a descendant of Adam, Jesus had to die, he inherited mortal nature from Adam through Mary, his mother.
Apart from Jesus, all of Adam’s descendants deserve this punishment, for we have all sinned personally. Jesus had to die because he was of our nature, sharing in the curse which came upon Adam’s descendants. Yet, because he personally had done nothing worthy of death “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24 N.I.V.). Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Thus it was due to Christ’s perfect character, his “spirit of holiness”, that he was raised.
Christ did not die on the cross only because he was of human nature. He willingly gave his perfect life as a gift for us; he showed his love for us by dying “for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3), knowing that through his death he would gain salvation from sin and death for us (Eph. 5:2,25; Rev. 1:5; Gal. 2:20). Because Jesus was perfect in character he was able to overcome the result of sin by being the first person to rise from the dead and be given immortal life. All those who identify themselves with Christ through baptism and a Christ-like way of life therefore have hope of a similar resurrection and reward.
In this lies the glorious significance of Christ’s resurrection. It is the “assurance” that we will be resurrected and judged (Acts 17:31), and if we have truly followed him in this life, share his reward of immortal life, “knowing (confidently) that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Cor. 6:14; Rom. 6:3-5). As sinners, we deserve eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Yet, on account of Christ’s perfect life, obedient death and his resurrection, God offers us the gift of eternal life, completely in accord with all His principles.
To displace the effects of our sins, God “imputeth righteousness” (Rom. 4:6) to us through our faith in His promises of salvation. We know that sin brings death, therefore if we truly believe that God will save us from it, we must believe that He will count us as if we are righteous, although we are not. Christ was perfect; by being truly in Christ, God will count us as if we are perfect, although personally we are not. God made Christ “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21), i.e. being in Christ through baptism and a Christ-like life. Thus for those “in Christ Jesus”, he is “made unto us...righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30,31); the following verse therefore encourages us to praise Christ for the great things he has achieved. “In the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith” (Rom. 1:17, N.I.V.). Understanding these things is therefore a necessary part of knowing the true Gospel.
All this was made possible through Christ’s resurrection. He was the “firstfruits” of a whole harvest of people who will be made immortal through his achievement (1 Cor. 15:20), “the firstborn” of a new spiritual family who will be given God’s nature (Col. 1:18 cf. Eph. 3:15). Christ’s resurrection therefore made it possible for God to count believers in Christ as if they are righteous, seeing that they are covered by his righteousness. Christ “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (a word meaning ‘to be righteous’)” (Rom. 4:25).
It’s no wonder, then that the Old Testament predicted that Messiah would be resurrected. It was hinted at right back in the promises to David: " I will set up thy seed after thee...I will establish His kingdom" (2 Sam. 7:12). For the phrase " set up" the Septuagint uses a Greek word elsewhere translated 'resurrect'. This great seed of David was to be the Son of God (2 Sam. 7:14) and also a literal descendant of David (v.12). Thus Messiah was to have one Divine and one human parent, as prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 " A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" - God with us. The meaning of the child's name being related to the means by which he was born, it follows that a 'virgin' here does not just mean a young woman. The Septuagint translation of the Bible, made by Egyptian Jews 200 years B.C., uses the word 'parthenos' for " Virgin" , which definitely means a virgin in the sexual sense. Thus we have here a prophecy of a virgin birth of Messiah, by the direct activity of God upon the virgin rather than that of a man.
Psalm 16:10 describes Messiah's brief death and resurrection: " Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption" - i.e. he would be raised before decomposition of the body set in. And after this, he was to ascend to Heaven: " In thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Ps.16:11). This cannot apply to David, seeing he died and has been buried many years.
Summary Of Evidence For The Resurrection
by John Thorpe
The evidence for the resurrection is considerable, and belief in the resurrection does not need to rely directly on belief in the inspiration of the Bible. Essentially the evidence available can be broken down into two types, physical evidence of the empty tomb and witness evidence of meetings with the risen Jesus.
a) The Empty Tomb
The empty tomb is mentioned in the gospels in passing. It is also attested, indirectly, by sources outside the Bible. It must have existed for three reasons:-
- The body of the crucifixion victim did not disappear in a cloud of smoke or self destruct after death; it must have been placed somewhere. However, no one managed to produce the body after the claim of the resurrection, even though it was in the interests of both Jews and Romans to do so. Therefore the body was not available and the tomb in which it had been placed was empty.
- The tomb was near Jerusalem. Anyone who wished to visit it from Jerusalem would have been able to do so easily. The fact that so many people in Jerusalem were convinced of the truth of the resurrection with its account of an empty tomb shows that the empty tomb really existed.
- The Jews spent considerable effort in proclaiming that the disciples stole the body from the tomb while the guards were asleep. This would have been a ludicrous story to distribute if the tomb still had the body of Jesus inside it.
b) The Witnesses
The witnesses are people who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection. Several of these are noted in the gospels, but a convenient list of them is given in 1 Corinthians where Paul writes:-
And that he was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve: After that, he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain to this present, but some have fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James; then by all the apostles. And last of all he was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1 Cor 15:5-8).
This list contains more than 500 people. The readers of the letter are reminded that most of these were still alive in their day (55 AD - 25 years after the events described in the resurrection narratives). This would mean that the witnesses were available for questioning. Had they not existed it would have been easy for the opponents of Paul (of whom there were many) to have stated this and hence to have shown his letter false and destroyed his case.
The existence of so many witnesses means that what they testified to - a solid and living Jesus - must also have existed.
c) Secondary Witnesses
The testimony of the earliest witnesses of the first century was backed up by the lengths that these witnesses would go to rather than deny their faith that Jesus had died and been raised again. The fate of many of these is described by Tacitus in the following words: “Mockery of all sorts accompanied their deaths. They were covered with the skins of wild animals and torn to death by dogs, or they were fastened to crosses and , when daylight failed, were burned to illuminate the night”. (Tacitus, Annals 15:44)
Large numbers of Christians died in this way in the persecution of Nero; similar persecutions continued on and off for more than a century afterwards before they gradually died out. According to letters published by Pliny a Christian could avoid the death penalty by recanting, but no one ever did. It is painfully clear that the early Christians had complete confidence in their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Any theory about what happened to Jesus at the crucifixion and subsequent events must account for all this evidence. It must explain both an empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. It must account for why everyone involved, including all the disciples, was so convinced of the resurrection of Jesus that they were prepared to allow themselves to be killed rather than to declare a lack of belief in it.