"WHY THE RESURRECTION IS CREDIBLE"
15th April 2001
By Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
This week's TIME magazine's cover story is "WHAT JESUS SAW: JERUSALEM
THEN AND NOW." It is unusually good in comparison with other cover stories.
Such as the cover story on THE BULLETIN, written by Archbishop Peter Carnley
on "WHY JESUS DIED."
He is following the group of modernist scholars who have not experienced the
impact of the Risen Christ in their own lives. An experience with the Risen
Christ changes a person's whole life round. But is believing in the resurrection
based upon credible records and responses from people who were there?
Some scholars in this debate argue that the Gospel stories of the empty tomb
and Jesus' post?Resurrect-ion appearances are fictitious.
Must a Christian believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection?
Does Christianity owe its origins to the Resurrection? Paul wrote "If Christ
is not raised then our preaching is in vain and so is your faith." Typical
of people rejecting the resurrection of Jesus is a former Catholic priest in
Chicago, John Dominic Crossan, who says that the tomb of Jesus was empty because
the body of Jesus had been eaten by wild dogs. Crossan does not believe the
historical evidence in the New Testament because he believes the account is
a legend. He has no evidence to support such an outlandish claim except his
The New Testament writers describe the tomb as empty and that they had seen
and met with the Risen Lord over a period of seven weeks. Paul was turned round
completely after meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road, twenty years later, and
was blinded by the experience!
Resurrection does not mean the resuscitation of a corpse. A medical resuscitation
good news for the patient and family. But Luke Timothy Johnson, Professor at
Candler School of Theology, says it is not good news that affects everyone else.
In proclaiming that Jesus had been resurrected, they were asserting that "after
His death, Jesus entered into an entirely new form of existence, one in which
He shared the power of God and in which he could share that power with others...
Sharing in Jesus' new life through the power of the Holy Spirit is an essential
dimension of the resurrection." We must examine the evidence for ourselves:
1. THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES.
Few scholars deny Jesus appeared to the apostles and to hundreds of His followers
after His death. The debate is how to interpret these appearances. Paul's testimony
that the disciples saw Jesus is not disputed. Peter saw the Risen Lord. Most
scholars agree Peter believed he saw Jesus. The Twelve Apostles saw Jesus on
several occasions. Luke (24:36?42) and John 20:19?20 cover different appearances.
The resurrected Jesus showed his wounds and ate with the disciples. There were
the 500 believers who saw Jesus at the one time. Paul challenges sceptics to
ask them because most of them were alive at that time. Then there was James.
He was the younger brother of Jesus. The conversion of James is one of the strongest
testimonies to the fact of the resurrection. James and his brothers never believed
in Jesus, until after they saw Him risen from the dead. The only explanation
of James and his brothers worshiping their 'brother' is if Jesus really did
appear to them. Then there was Paul, the persecutor of the Christians, who became
their most famous preacher.
Paul's conversion is an amazing testimony to the fact of the resurrection.
Why would Paul give up all he had to follow a peasant Jew, unless Jesus had
appeared to him resulting in blindness for three days?
2. THESE ACCOUNTS ARE HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.
There was only a very short time between the crucifixion and resurrection and
the writing of these accounts. The gospels show no sign of legendary writing.
Legends do not typically have the vast amount of historical testimony the gospel
accounts do. The gospels mention cities, governors, provinces, names of people
and many other details that could easily be verified. In all the early records
there are no contradictions.
3. THERE IS EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION.
There are six lines of evidence for the historicity of Jesus' appearances.
The resurrection of Jesus is the central fact of the Christian faith. The entire
structure of Christianity, the hope for eternal life and for any meaning to
human existence, stands or falls with Christ's resurrection. As Paul wrote:
"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in
your sins." (1 Cor 15:17). His resurrection is the most important event
of history and it is a most certain fact.
The very fact of Christianity is proof in itself. The preaching of the apostles
(Acts 2:22?36; 3:14?15; 4:10?12; 10:36?43; 13:26?39; 17:31; 26:22, 23; etc.)
always centred on the resurrection. "With great power the apostles continued
to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 4:33) This was
the message that won thousands to faith in Christ.
Worship changed to a Sunday. The first Christians were devout Jews, accustomed
to worshipping faithfully on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, but now
they began meeting instead on the first day, because that was the day of the
The institution of the Lord's Supper. Their greatest annual observance was the
Passover, but this soon became Easter for them, when they realised that Christ
had fulfilled the Passover, dying as the Lamb of God, and then rising again
from the dead. The observance of the Lord's day, Easter and the Lord's Supper,
can be traced back to apostolic times and the resurrection.
The existence of the Christian Church. There is no doubt that the apostles and
early Christians, by the tens of thousands, believed and preached the resurrection.
Is it possible they could have been wrong and their faith was based on wicked
deception or fanatical delusion? Highly unlikely.
Their willingness to suffer for truth. They suffered severely for their faith,
losing their possessions and lives in the great Jewish and Roman persecutions
of the first century. Would they have persisted in their testimony if they knew
it was a lie?
The evidence of the empty tomb. The tomb had been sealed with the Roman seal
and was guarded, under pain of death, by a detachment of 16 Roman soldiers night
and day. A great stone weighing several tons was rolled in front of its entrance
and sealed by the guard. Yet on the first Easter morning, the soldiers fled
in terror, the stone was rolled away, and the body vanished.
In the grave, the grave clothes still as they had been before He had passed
out of them. The empty tomb has never been explained, except by the bodily resurrection
of Jesus. If the body actually was still there, where the Jews or Romans had
seen it, and had guarded it, they would certainly have produced it as a sure
means of immediately quenching the spreading flame of the Christian faith. If
the apostles or other friends of Jesus somehow had the body themselves, and
thus knew He was dead, they could never have preached His resurrection as they
did. For they knew it would surely mean persecution for them and their deaths.
No man willingly sacrifices his life for something he knows to be a lie! The
empty tomb speaks eloquently of His resurrection.
4. ARE THERE ANY CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE VIEWS?
Some have suggested that these post?resurrection appearances of Christ were
hallucinations. But hallucinations don't occur repeatedly like this, to individuals
and to groups, indoors and outdoors. They themselves first Luke 24:37 "were
startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost." But Jesus invited
them to touch Him and to note the nail scars in His hands and feet. He ate dinner
with them, and they could no longer doubt that it was Jesus Himself as they
had always known Him.
Some have suggested that He never really died, but only fainted on the cross.
Some people go to absurd lengths to avoid facing facts. Jesus had been through
hours of intense psychological pressure and had been scoured with the whip for
39 lashes. Large iron spikes were nailed through His wrists and ankles. He had
hung for nine hours in the sun without drugs.
A spear was thrust up into His side, piercing the pericardium so that blood
and fluid ran out. Any wound in the abdomen would bring gross infection. He
was open to the flies, infection, no control of bowel or bladder, exhaustion,
disjointed bones. Jesus was in the vertical position, just the worst position
for any possible lingering of life. Anybody surviving this would be an invalid
for months. Yet on the Sunday Jesus was whole, walking and talking, showing
the scars in his hands and side!
The Roman soldiers knew death and they pronounced Him dead. Some modernists
like Barbara Theiring have repeated an old claim that maybe Jesus had just swooned.
Grievously wounded and weakened, an almost?dead Jesus could never have survived
the three days in the tomb, avoided the infection, recovered from the wounds,
shifted the massive stone from the entrance, escaped unseen past the Romans,
walked seven miles into Jerusalem, go through locked doors and then inspire
His disciples to the heights of courage and power which they soon began to manifest.
You would have to have great faith to believe that!
There is no other fact of history supported by such strong evidence! The final
evidence is the reality of the assurance of salvation and eternal life, enjoyed
by each person who believes!
"You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart!"
Experiential evidence is one of the strongest forms of evidence. You know because
you try it and discover for yourself He is risen!
We simply place our personal faith in the living Christ. Rom 10:9 "If
you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your
heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Jesus came
to give people eternal life and the capacity to cope with whatever life brings
them here and now. That experience of the Risen Christ is testified to by millions
of people over the centuries.
Even people who do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus find themselves
strangely drawn to it. One of the writers who rejects the resurrection of Christ
finds himself strangely drawn to it. Bishop John Shelby Spong writes: "What
we cannot finally deny is that Easter dawned and that a community of people
became convinced that Jesus was alive in a new way and that the grave of death
could not contain the meaning of his life. Furthermore we cannot deny that because
of their conviction their lives were dramatically and qualitatively different,
and that they were able to pass that difference on for two thousand years so
that you and I can now be part of the community that lives in this conviction.
So here I stand, called, I believe, to live as a part of the people of the resurrection.
And living here, I assert that Jesus lives, that death cannot contain him, that
Jesus is Lord."
Why not join with the Easter people? Believe in the Risen Lord with all you
heart and find Him as your friend and Saviour.
THE HISTORICAL JESUS J D Crossan Harper 1989
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins & J P Moreland 1995
THE JESUS QUEST B Witherington 111 IVP 1995
RESURRECTION: MYTH OR REALITY J S Spong Harper 1994
RABBI JESUS Bruce Chilton.
By Rev GORDON MOYES