What is at Stake
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some optional matter that one can remove from Christianity and still have a workable system of faith. The truthfulness of everything about the Gospel rests upon this one event, and the early Christians understood this:
- “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).
Paul sets forth a number of harsh realities if Jesus was not raised from the dead:
- Our faith is vain and worthless. God does not give a person any credit for sincerely believing something that is false. God’s attitude is not, “Well what you believe is false, but that does not matter, what counts is that you believe with all your heart”.
- People who died as Christians died lost. Observe Paul’s strong language, “have perished”.
- All our believing and effort in following Jesus means nothing, we are still lost in our sins.
- We are falsely representing God when we claim that Jesus was raised (15:15). In fact, such a false assertion would be made every time that we observed communion on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 11:26).
- There is no hope of salvation for the human race. If even faithful Christians are still in their sins, then were does that leave everyone else?
On the other hand, if Jesus was raised from the dead then the implications are far-reaching:
- This would be the most significant event that has ever happened in the history of the human race. This is the one historical event that we need to make sure that we have all the information.
- He is the Son of God, He is who He claimed to be (Romans 1:4).
- We can have absolutely certainty that His blood does cleanse us of our sins (Romans 6:3-6).
- We can have absolutely certainty that He is the Lord (Acts 2:36), and therefore has the right to tell us how to live and expect obedience on our part.
- Everything that He taught is true.
“The resurrection is key to accepting the Lordship of Jesus (Acts 2:36)… Accepting the Lordship of Jesus has further implications for how we view Scripture. Jesus is the key for informing our attitudes about what we should think regarding the Scriptures. Whatever Jesus said or taught about Scripture is what we should believe and teach about Scripture. Accepting the Lordship of Jesus means accepting His attitudes, teachings, works, claims, and everything He stands for. How can it be any other way” (Mind Your Faith, Essays on Apologetics, Doy Moyer, pp. 109-110).
- He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), therefore, all other religious paths are dead ends. This is the only path in reference to salvation that God recognizes (Acts 4:12).
- No longer do we need to fear death (Hebrews 2:14-17).
- Everything about our faith is worthwhile (1 Corinthians 15:58).
- He is coming again to judge the world and we are all accountable to Him (Acts 17:30-31).
The Minimum Facts
The following are the facts that all scholars, believing and unbelieving accept concerning the death of Jesus:
- Jesus died by crucifixion. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Jesus was executed in the Principate of Tiberias by the governor Pontius Pilate.
- The disciples of Jesus believed that they saw Him alive again after He died. Repeatedly in the book of Acts the apostles claim that they saw Jesus after He was raised (Acts 2:32; 3:15 “God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses”; 4:20). The apostle Paul actually gives a list of the specific resurrection appearances of Jesus and who saw Him and in what order (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). He even provides the personal names for many of these witnesses.
- A previous persecutor of Christians, Saul of Tarsus, went through a radical change, became an apostle, and claimed that the reason for it all was that he had seen the risen Christ.
- The tomb was found empty on the third day after Jesus had died.
“Evidence shows that the tomb was new (so Jesus’ body could not be mistaken for another body), observed (the women watched closely where Jesus was laid and would not have gone to the wrong tomb), and secured (sealed and guarded so that it could not be tampered with or the body stolen)” (Moyer, p. 107).
At this juncture is where skeptics seek to come up with an alternative explanation for what happened to the body of Jesus. Over the years such theories have included the idea that the women went to the wrong tomb, the disciples only imagined they had seen Jesus, the disciples or someone else removed the body or the swoon theory. Before we move on us let us remember that all such theories have no historical support whatever. By contrast, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is supported by 27 documents that were written within the lifetime of those living when Jesus was said to have been raised. There are no witnesses to the theory that the disciples stole the body, yet there were over 500 witnesses to the resurrection.
“When an alternative explanation is offered, there is an implicit admission by the one giving the explanation that something actually did occur that needs explaining. If the whole story is a myth, then why bother to give alternate theories about the status of a real tomb? Why do skeptics feel the need to provide some kind of explanation?” (Moyer, p. 108).
The Real Issue
“The disciples did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead just because they saw an empty tomb or because someone else told them about it. When the women initially saw an empty tomb, they thought someone had moved the body (John 20:2)” (Moyer, p. 108). The women did not immediately jump to the conclusion that He had been raised. In fact, even after the apostles had been told about the empty tomb, they refused to believe that Jesus had been raised (Mark 16:14). The disciples believed that Jesus had been raised primarily because they saw Him (John 20:26-29).
There Have Been Other Marytrs
At times it has been noted that the apostles were willing to die for what they preached and typically people will not sacrifice their lives for a lie. Someone might argue that there have been many people throughout history who have given their lives in some false cause, and that is true. However, there is a difference between that and what the apostles were willing to do. “The issue is not just that believers died, but who it is specifically who were willing to die. The argument is focused on the first generation disciples, not those who came to believe later. People who die for their faith today are not in the same position as the apostles and initial witnesses of Jesus Christ. Modern martyrs act on a faith that they have been taught and received from others. The apostles on the other hand, were making claims about what they had actually seen with their own eyes. This means that they knew, without question, whether or not they were telling the truth. Modern martyrs may be claiming to believe truth, but they are not the firsthand sources that the apostles claim to be” (Moyer, p. 107).
Mark Dunagan | email@example.com
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017