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Evidences for the Resurrection

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Introduction

For nearly 2000 years there has been the historical phenomena of Christianity. In spite of the fact that the church throughout its early years suffered intense persecution at the hands of both the Jews and the Romans, it flourished. Many of the first missionaries of the Christian faith died a martyr's death because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

Why were these early Christians willing to face death for their belief in Jesus Christ? It was because they were convinced of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that this proved without a doubt that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the one and only Savior of the world. And, so for them, death was not the end. The resurrection is a historical fact--not just some philosophical ideal or idea.

Historical Background

As a result, the message of the early church was always centered around the historical fact of the resurrection. And this was not just a theological myth which began circulating 20 or 30 years later among the followers of Jesus Christ. It was a message proclaimed immediately beginning with the morning of the third day. It was a message based upon incontrovertible evidence.

Luke 24:9-11; 33-35 and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles. 11 And these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them. . . . 33 And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, "The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon." 35 And they began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

Acts 1:21-22 "It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-- 22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us-- one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection."

Acts 2:23-24; 31-32 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. . . . 31 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

Acts 3:14-15 "But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.

Acts 10:39-41 "And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 "God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

Acts 13:29-39 "And when they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. 30 "But God raised Him from the dead; 31 and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people. 32 "And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33 that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'Thou art My Son; today I have begotten Thee.' 34 "And as for the fact that He raised Him up from the dead, no more to return to decay, He has spoken in this way: 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' 35 "Therefore He also says in another Psalm, 'Thou wilt not allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.' 36 "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay; 37 but He whom God raised did not undergo decay. 38 "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.

Acts 17:30-31 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. "

Acts 26:22-23 "And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."

Notice how the book of Acts begins:

Acts 1:1-3 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. 3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

Without the resurrection it would have ended with verse 1. Death would have been the conclusion. But notice what verses 2 and 3 have to say:

"Convincing proofs" in verse 3 is the Greek tekmerion which is related to the Greek word tekma, meaning "a fixed boundary, goal, end." Tekmerion means "a fixed and sure sign, evidence, or proof." The word was used of demonstrable proof and evidence in contrast to mere philosophical superstition or in contrast to fallible signs. Galen a medical writer of the second century A.D. so used this word. Here Luke, the historical physician, one practiced in gathering evidence, chooses this special word for sure historical proof, the strongest type of legal evidence.

In addition to this Luke adds to this word "many." So Luke tells us that he had carefully examined the evidence. Dr. Luke, who lived in the time of Jesus Christ and who had personally talked to many eye witnesses, tells us there were many demonstrable and incontrovertible proofs, not merely one or two, but many. (Cf. Luke 1:1-2)

From the beginning there have been those who have rejected the resurrection as a hoax, a tale, a lie or fiction. A number of theories have been advance to disprove the resurrection, but all of these have been solidly discredited by one historical scholar after another. So interestingly, not one shred of solid evidence has ever been given to support these claims. Then why do men make these claims? Because they have never examined the evidence, or because of their prejudice, their philosophical bias, and unbelief in the miraculous.

The silence of Christ's enemies and the lack of historical evidence against the resurrection is almost as strong an evidence as the positive evidences for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have in my library a book covering a debate between Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew entitled, Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?, the Resurrection Debate. The debate was held in Dallas and was judged by a panel of judges organized into two panels of experts in their respective areas of specialty to render a verdict on the subject matter of the debate. One panel consisted of five philosophers who were asked to judge the content of the debate and render a winner. The second panel consisted of five professional debate judges who were asked to judge the argumentation technique of the debaters. All ten participants serve on the faculties of American universities and colleges such as the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Virginia, Western Kentucky University, James Madison University, and George Mason University.

The decision of the judges were as follows. The panel of philosophers judging content cast four votes for Habermas who argued for the fact of the resurrection, none for Flew, and one draw. The panel of professional debate judges voted three to two, also in favor of Habermas, this time regarding the method of argumentation technique. Note what one judge said:

I am of the position that the affirmative speaker [Habermas] has a very significant burden of proof in order to establish his claims. The various historical sources convinced me to adopt the arguments of the affirmative speaker. Dr. Flew, on the other hand, failed, particularly in the rebuttal period and the head-to-head session, to introduce significant supporters of his position. Dr. Habermas placed a heavy burden on Dr. Flew to refute very specific issues. As the rebuttals progressed, I felt that Dr. Flew tried to skirt the charges (Habermas and Flew, p. xiv).

Another professional debate judge said:

I conclude that the historical evidence, though flawed, is strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead. Habermas has already won the debate. . . . . By defeating the Hume-inspired skeptical critique on miracles in general offered by Flew and by demonstrating the strength of some of the historical evidence, Habermas does end up providing "highly probably evidence" for the historicity of the resurrection "with no plausible naturalistic evidence against it." Habermas, therefore, in my opinion, wins the debate (Ibid., p. xv).

A Theological
and Philosophical Absurdity

There are always those who say the historical fact of a physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is not important. "It is sufficient" they say, "that one believes in a spiritual resurrection," or as . . .

"the late Norman Perrin, a highly esteemed New Testament scholar of the University of Chicago, remarked not too long ago that the really important thing about the resurrection of Jesus is not the historical reality of that event, but the theological truths that it expresses" (William Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection, Servant Books, p. xiii).

Others have advocated "you do not need to believe in the resurrection. If this stands in the way of your rationale, just accept Jesus as a great leader and as an example of love, kindness and peace."

This kind of thinking is pure non-sense, illogical, and contrary to the facts of the life of Christ.

We need to see clearly that there can be positive theological implications of the resurrection only insofar as its historical reality is affirmed. While many theologians may find such a conviction hopelessly antiquated, the man in the street knows better. His common sense tells him that there is no reason why a dead man should be decisive for his existence today, and I agree with him. Once doctrinal teachings are detached from their historical realities, we have entered the arena of myth. And there is simply no good reason to prefer Christian myths over other myths or, for that matter, secular philosophies. The resurrection is only real for our lives today if it is a real event of history (Craig, p. xiii).

If we take away the resurrection, then Jesus Christ was not even a good human leader, but a human monstrosity who was on the level with a man who thinks he is Captain Marvel. Either he was the world's greatest deceiver and deserved to die, or He was who He claimed to be, the God-Man Savior of the world. And it is the resurrection which makes the difference.

It is not my intention to give all the evidence, but to concentrate on some of the more remarkable and important evidences.

The Evidence of the Stone

Matthew 28:1-4 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. 2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; 4 and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

Mark 16:1-4 And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

Luke 24:2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,

John 20:1-9 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. 2 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. 4 And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

The Seal on the Stone

The seal set on the stone (Mt. 27:62-66). As claimed by the Pharisees, this was requested of Pilate to guard against any kind of fraud or lies by the disciples of Jesus Christ. In doing this, however, they provided two more excellent evidences for Christ's resurrection. Unwittingly, they prepared an unanswerable refutation to their own claims in their attempt to discredit the account of the resurrection (cf. Mat. 28:11-15).

The seal included two things: (1) a Roman guard, and (2) a seal consisting of a cord set in wax around the stone where it was connected to the tomb.

Matthew 27:65, "You have a guard: go, make it as secure as you know how."

Some have claimed that Pilate was refusing the request for a Roman guard and telling them to use their own temple guard. But the verb used can be an imperative, "take a guard, make it as sure as you know how." It can also mean he was giving them permission to have a Roman guard.

The word "guard" is the Greek word kustodia, from the Latin or Roman custodia. The use of this particular word would indicate a Roman guard and not the Jewish temple guard. This is further verified by the fact they ask Pilate for a guard. If they could have used their own guards why go to Pilate? Also, if only the temple guards were involved, the statements of verse 14 would have been unnecessary. No one would have to talk to the governor nor bribe anyone.

Why was this important? Because the presence of Roman soldiers at the tomb and the Roman seal over the stone door made the possibility of the religious leaders' claims many times more difficult, if not impossible. The likelihood that these timid, fearful Galilean disciples could or would steal the body of Jesus out from under the noses of a guard of highly disciplined and skilled Roman soldiers is not only ridiculous, but impossible. Even had the soldiers been asleep, think of the noise the disciples would have made trying to removed the huge stone covering the entrance to the tomb!

The Stone Rolled Away

The tombs in Palestine were somewhat like a cave hewn out of the rocky side of a mountain or hill. They consisted of a rectangular opening into a main room or central chamber with a niche carved into the side of one of the inner walls where the body was placed. At one end was a special elevated place for the head.

The opening of the central chamber was covered by a large circular stone or heavy disc of rock set in a slanting groove so that when the stone was released it would roll by its own weight and cover the entrance. Because of its enormous weight (possibly several tons) it would require the combined efforts of several men to move the stone back up the groove and block it. But who would roll away the stone?

  • The enemies would not for it was their purpose to keep His body there and the door sealed (Matt. 27:62-66).
  • If the disciples had done it and had removed the body they did so without the knowledge of the women, for they came expecting to find the body (John 20:1-2). Besides the guards were present.
  • The women themselves would have been unable to remove the stone. As they came to the tomb the morning of the resurrection, they were wondering, who would role away the stone for them (Mark 16:2-8).
  • Matthew 28:2-4 tells us it was an angel of the Lord. This shows divine intention.

It was not rolled away so Christ could leave because he could pass through the walls in His glorified body. By divine purpose it was removed to call attention to the testimony of the empty tomb. The tomb had been opened not to let Jesus out--but to let people in.

Why did people need to get in? Because within the tomb itself lay some astounding evidence to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus, the witness of the grave cloths.

The Evidence of Empty Tomb

John 20:2-9 And so she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." 3 Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they were going to the tomb. 4 And the two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. 6 Simon Peter therefore also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he beheld the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

Mary's Response

Upon seeing the stone removed, Mary's immediate reaction is that thieves, perhaps the Jews, have taken the body. Without entering as the other women did, she returns to Peter and John. Her conclusion--"they have taken the Lord" (probably referring to the Jews) .

The Response of the Disciples

John arrived first and saw the linen wrappings. The verb used (the Greek blepo) describes the simple exercise of sight, a single look or glance. At just a casual glance what caught John's eye were the undisturbed wrappings, lying in their natural position as when around the body. The word order makes this evident, "lying" is first. Even a casual glance caught this.

Then Peter arrived and, in his impetuous way, entered immediately. The word "Beheld" is theoreo. This word denotes a purposeful and careful look, one which observes details, not just a casual look. What Peter observed were the linen wrappings.

The Evidence
of the Grave Clothes

Peter's Observation

  • Peter observes the linen wrappings lying undisturbed.
  • He noticed the face napkin rolled up separately, as it had been when the body was prepared, suggesting that the head wrapping had partially retained its annular form.

Had a thief stolen the body he would have taken the body--linen wrappings and all.

Had the wrappings been removed from the body they would not have been in an undisturbed fashion. As previously described, there was a place for the body with an elevated ledge for the head. The head was wrapped separately from the body. If someone had removed these from the body, they would not have been lying as originally placed--the napkin separate in the place where the head had been and the other wrappings where the body had been--undisturbed.

Peter continued to ponder in his heart all he had observed.

John's Observations

When John enters the tomb, what he sees brings immediate understanding, intelligent comprehension of the facts. The word for sight in this verse denotes mental perception resulting principally from the vision.

Peter is pondering all he has observed, but not John. Having now seen the witness of the empty tomb, he understands that His Lord has risen from the dead. In verse 9 we are told he understands and believes. Now he understands the Old Testament Scripture and Christ's own words concerning Messiah being cut off, but returning and reigning by means of the resurrection. (Cf. Ps. 16:10; Dan. 2; Dan. 7; Dan. 9:6) Before they had not understood the Scripture or Christ's words. But now sight comes to John (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).

The Evidence
of Christ's Appearances

The personal appearances of Christ following His resurrection are another overwhelming historical proof. The women and the disciples saw, heard, and even touched the Lord. In fact, 500 brethren saw him at one time (1 Cor. 15:6).

Various explanations have been given concerning the resurrection, but none of them honestly and fairly deal with the record and are clearly prejudicial attempts to deny the evidence.

R. T. France in his book, The Evidence for Jesus, writes about the typical theories regarding Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection and the various attempts to get at the so-called real Jesus through the various theories regarding His life, death, and resurrection, whether in magazine articles, books, or television series. He shows how these invariably give prominence to the theories of skeptics and, by and large, do not treat the Gospels as historical evidence. At the end of the book, after discussing both non-Christian and biblical evidence, he made the following statement:

"In the earlier chapters we have noticed the tendency of some recent writers to try to go behind the NT portrait of Jesus, in search of a more `recent' Jesus who even by the time the New Testament documents were written had been largely forgotten and replaced by a semi-mythical figure, the `Christ of faith'. We have seen repeatedly that the evidence on which such reconstructions are based (when they are not mere unsupported speculation) is in fact later in date than the NT writings, and can generally be identified with what by the second century were regarded as heretical movements, deviations from the original Christian message, usually in direction of a faith more appealing to the philosophical or religious climate of the day." (The Evidence for Jesus, R.T. France, The Jesus Library, Michael Green, series editor, pp. 165-166)

The Evidence
of the Transformed Disciples

The disciples had seen their master die. And because of this, they had lost all hope. Christ had told them he would die and be raised. In fact, it was an integral part of His claims. Yet they were down-trodden, utterly disheartened, and meeting in obscure places. But after the resurrection, we find the disciples joyous, fearless, and bearing public testimony. They were even willing to die--and it is not likely they would be willing to die for a lie. (Cf. Schaff, Vol. I, p. 173f.)

Peter who denied the Lord when confronted by a young girl, boldly proclaimed the word at Pentecost in front of the same religious leaders who crucified Christ.

When we consider the transformation of the disciples in connection with the silence of the Jews and their inability to produce the body of Christ or any evidence to the contrary, the events of Pentecost become another proof of Christ's resurrection.

The Evidence of Pentecost
(Acts 2-4)

Only 50 days following the death and resurrection, Peter preached the doctrine of the resurrection and thousands gathered to hear him. But the important point is he was preaching to people who had access to the tomb. The resurrection was not a new fact, and he was preaching its meaning from the Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. 16:8-10).

No one offered him a rebuttal. The Jews were silent--a silence which is as significant as the boldness of the speech of the disciples. Three thousand people who were in a position to know the facts about the resurrection of Christ believed and were saved. (Acts 2:41; 4:2-14).

There are other tremendous evidences for the resurrection of Christ such as:

  • Old Testament prophecy.
  • The prophecies of Christ himself.
  • The existence of the church.
  • The observance of Sunday, the first day of the week.
  • The transformation and witness of Paul

The evidences we've mentioned in this study are more than sufficient to show the validity of the resurrection. To deny it, in view of the evidence, one must not only deny his rational processes, but he must deny Christianity and the Scripture as valid and providing salvation for mankind.

The Doctrinal Significance
of the Resurrection

The theology of the resurrection is vitally important to the Christian for it affects his salvation and his sanctification. In 1 Peter 1:3 Peter points out we are begotten unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There are several reasons for this.

  • The resurrection authenticates Christ as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4)
  • The resurrection proves the atoning value of Christ's work (Rom. 4:25). "Raised because of" means it proves the sufficiency of His atonement for our justification. The resurrection did not provide our justification, it proved Christ's death was sufficient to bring justification by faith. Therefore, having been justified (as proven by the resurrection) we have peace (Rom. 5:1).
  • The resurrection ensures our salvation (1 Cor. 15:17-19). It provides assurance for the fact of our salvation and affords comfort with regard to our deceased loved ones (I Thess 4:13f ). There is an inscription found in Thessalonica which reads, "After death, no reviving, after the grave no meeting again." The resurrection guarantees such a belief is false.
  • It is the basis of our sanctification (Rom. 6). As Christ was victorious over sin and death, so we may be victorious by our identification with him.
  • Christ's resurrection as the first fruits from the dead is the guarantee of our own resurrection and of the glorified body we will receive at the resurrection of saints (Phil. 3:20-21).

Thus we can see that by the resurrection, man is provided with a living hope because it depends on a living Savior. All other religious leaders are dead, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius. The founders of religious cults are all in their tombs, their bodies rotting in the dust. Their followers have a dead hope, but they also have something else.

Conclusion

In Acts 17:31 we read,

". . . according as He hath appointed a day in which he shall judge the inhabited earth by One whom He hath marked out having provided conviction for all men because he hath raised Him from the grave."

While the resurrection can provide assurance of salvation, a living hope, it also provides assurance of judgment because the resurrection marks Jesus Christ out as God's Son and God's provision of grace for our sin. For those who reject Christ (God's manifested provision for salvation) there is nothing left but to look fearfully for a day of judgment. It assures the unbeliever of a second death just as it assures the believer of resurrection unto life.

The important question is, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?

God's Solution for Man's Problem

God is perfect holiness (whose holy character we can never attain to by our own works of righteousness) but He is also perfect love and full of grace and mercy. Because of His love, grace and mercy He has not left us without hope and a solution.

Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us."

This is the good news of the Bible, the message of the gospel. It's the message of the gift of God's own Son who became man (the God-man), lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sin, and was raised from the grave proving both the fact He is God's Son and the value of His death for us as our substitute (Rom. 1:4; 4:25).

2 Corinthians 5:21: "He made Him who knew no sin {to be} sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, {the} just for {the} unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit."

The All-Important Question

How then do we receive God's Son that we may have the eternal life God has promised us? What becomes the issue for us today?

John 1:12: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name."

John 3:16-18: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

Because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, the Bible states that "He that has the Son has life." We can receive the Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior by trusting in the person of Christ and His death for our sins.

This means we must each come to God the same way--as a sinner who recognizes his sinfulness, repudiates any form of human works for salvation, and relies totally on Christ alone by faith alone for our salvation.

Would you trust in Christ today as your personal Savior? Just tell God that you know you need the Savior, Jesus Christ, and that you want to receive His Son by faith.

Related Topics: Easter, Apologetics, Resurrection